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What do you do?
Prof Rajiv Khanna has been a research scientist at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research for over 25 years now. On Monday, June 12, he was awarded the AC for “distinguished service to medicine in the field of immunology, through contributions to the development of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancers, infectious complications and chronic disease.”
Speaking to SBS Punjabi, Prof Khanna said, “I was born and raised in Punjab. After completing my primary and high school education at Sainik School Kapurthala, I earned my degree in Amritsar, followed by PhD at PGI Chandigarh. My father worked as the Chief Pharmacist in PGI as well, so I grew up in an environment where there was a lot of talk about medicine.”
“I came to Australia in 1989 and apart from a short stint in Adelaide, I’ve always lived in Brisbane. I’m lucky that I joined QIMR over two decades ago and got involved in the stream of immunotherapy, which today is regarded as cutting edge in the medical world.”
Can you describe your research?
“ Our research is mainly focused on developing new treatments for cancer or infectious complications particularly in transplant patients.”
Explaining the nature of his research, Prof Khanna says, “Traditionally, cancers are treated by what we call three pillars of treatment – surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“We have added immunotherapy to this list, which has now emerged as the fourth pillar of treatment of cancers and has very few side-effects.”
“Basically, we take the patient’s own immune cells from their body and we re-train them. It is akin to fortifying them and converting them into an army of killer T-cells, which, when reintroduced back into the body, can actually fight off the cancer.”
“We are proud of developing innovative treatments for cancer patients, particularly for those suffering from brain cancer. The best part of it all is, that immunotherapy is much safer than chemo and radio therapy, and has far fewer side effects.”
How does your research benefit the community?
“The main principle behind our research is not just helping patients survive, but to give them better quality of life.”
“Very often, patients can’t eat or drink after invasive chemo or radiotherapy, and face very severe side effects. We minimise all that through immunotherapy, using cutting edge treatment for patients with terminal illnesses.”
Prof Khanna says that on a global scale, Australia is a key player in the field of scientific research, even though it is only a small country with a population of 23 million. “Australian researchers are making invaluable contributions to advancement of science and therapies, despite the fact that countries like US have far greater funding for scientific research.”