Research Field: Immunology
The immune system is crucial for protecting us from infections, but in older people, the immune system’s ability to fight off infection weakens with age. This weakening occurs as a result of T cells – infection fighting white blood cells – undergoing changes that make them less able to recognise and attack invading germs. In addition, the thymus degenerates with age and is less able to produce T cells. Dr. Heng’s research has revealed that certain hormones have negative effects on the thymus and on T cell function: by removing or blocking these hormones, we can restore the immune defences of older individuals. This approach can help to improve the immunity and hasten recovery from infections that occur during treatments in patients whose immune system is damaged, such as a result of cancer therapies.
Tracy has promoted her discoveries on stem cell therapies and immune regeneration through mainstream media and social media. She is also involved in the development of policies and regulation by making submissions to the Therapeutic Goods Administration and on policy sitting on the Subcommittee of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research. She promotes science among secondary school students by hosting work experience placements in her laboratory every year. Tracy also volunteers her scientific expertise in various ways. One example she assisted with scientific editing to raise funds for Nyaya Health in rural Nepal.