Emily is part of the Vukovic group which studies neuroimmunology and cognition.

Researcher biography

Emily is currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Vukovic laboratory for Neuroimmunology and Cognition where she investigates the functional consequences of neuro-immune interactions and their impact on traumatic brain injury outcomes. Specifically, she investigates microglia, the CNS resident innate immune cells, and their role in mediating learning and memory deficits arising from brain injury. Dr Willis completed her PhD in neuroimmunology at The University of Queensland in October 2020. During this time, she identified that microglia do not actively drive secondary inflammatory pathology after brain injury, but rejuvenating microglia can induce microglia to become neuro-protective, driving brain repair and restoring cognition after brain injury. She identified that these rejuvenated microglia act via the interleukin-6 signalling pathway and identify this pathway as a potential target for therapeutic intervention. Her work demonstrates that microglia and their suggested roles in propagating brain injury have been previously misunderstood, and approaches to harness and modulate microglia are possible and this can support brain repair and restore brain function after injury. Her work was published in the leading life sciences journal Cell in 2020 (IF: 41.58, citations to date: >317). Her research has received several awards, including the Mark Rowe award and the Paxinos-Watson award, both from the Australian Neuroscience Society (ANS) in 2021, as well as the Postdoctoral Investigator Award from the National Association of Research Fellows (NARF) of the NHMRC in 2020.