Career summary:

I am a NHMRC Investigator EL1 Fellow and Group Leader at the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM), located in the tropical north of Queensland. I earned a German Diploma (~MSc) from the University of Cologne and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), followed by a PhD in immunology from the University of Queensland, Translational Research Institute in Australia. Subsequently, I conducted postdoctoral research in Prof. Kristin Hogquist’s group at the University of Minnesota (UMN), USA, focussing on the development and ontogeny of intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL). In July 2018, I returned to Australia and accepted a position sponsored by the Queensland based biotech company Paragen Bio. In 2020, I transitioned back into academia, establishing my own research group at AITHM in 2022.


Research focus:

Central to my research are IEL, a highly heterogeneous population of immune cells embedded within the gut epithelium. These cells play critical roles in maintaining epithelial integrity and homeostasis by surveilling the gut lining for infected or cancerous cells (i.e. colorectal cancer) and by impacting inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Our research aims to dissect how IEL are impacted by two factors: age and physiological microbial exposure. Specifically, we examine IEL across different life stages (pre-sexual maturity, adulthood, and late life) and how these stages interact with varying microbial environments. To address these questions, I spearheaded the establishment of a Normalised Microbial Experience (NME / “dirty”) mouse facility at AITHM. The NME/”dirty” mouse model is invaluable for translational research as the microbial diversification closely mimics ‘real-life’ conditions. Recent landmark studies have demonstrated that "dirty" mice provide a more accurate representation of the adult human immune system compared to specific pathogen-free (SPF) mice, making our model an exciting advancement for our institute. We have furthermore integrated NME mice with a “timestamp” fate mapping model, enabling us to track individual IEL subsets and cells that can be permanently marked during their development at any chosen stage in life.


Key publications and active patents:

-       Ruscher et al., Nature Immunology, 2017 (doi: 10.1038/ni.3751)

-       Owen et al., Nature Immunology, 2019 (doi: 10.1038/s41590-018-0289-6)

-       Ruscher et al., J Exp Med., 2020 (doi: 10.1084/jem.20192336)

-       Wijeyesinghe et al., Nature, 2021(doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03351-3)

-       Ruscher et al., PNAS, 2022 (doi: 10.1073/pnas.2202795119)

-       Yakou et al., Science Immunology, 2023 (doi: 10.1126/sciimmunol.adf2163)

-       Patent (inventor): PCT/AU2022/050234 Hookworm proteins and the use thereof; (Novel anti-inflammatory proteins based on parasite-host co-evolution)

-       Patent (inventor): PCT/AU2023/050966 Pyranoside compounds and methods; (Anti-inflammatory molecules derived from tropical plants)

  • Mucosal immunology
  • Intestinal immunology
  • Intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes
  • T cell responses in the gut
  • Therapeutic capacities of helminth parasite derived molecules
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • 2022 to present - Group Leader, AITHM (QLD, Australia)
  • 2020 to 2022 - Postdoctoral Research Fellow, AITHM (QLD, Australia)
  • 2018 to 2019 - Research Fellow, James Cook University, ParaGen Bio (QLD, Australia)
  • 2014 to 2018 - Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Minnesota, Center for Immunology (MN, USA)
  • 2009 to 2014 - PhD in Immunology, University of QLD, Translational Research Institute (QLD, Australia)
  • 2008 to 2009 - Occupational Trainee, Univ. of QLD, Diamantina Institute (QLD, Australia)
  • 2007 to 2008 - German Diploma (~MSC) Thesis, German Aerospace Center (Cologne, Germany)
Research Disciplines
Socio-Economic Objectives
  • 2020 - American Association of Immunologists (AAI) Travel Award for attending the AAI 2020 (*Cancelled due to COVID-19)
  • 2019 - Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology (ASI) Graham Jackson Memorial Prize (best speaker at mucosal immunology session)
  • 2019 - Society for Mucosal Immunology (SMI) Travel Award for attending the International Congress of Mucosal Immunology (ICMI) 2019
  • 2019 - Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology (ASI) International Travel Award – Post Doctorate for attending the German Society for Immunology (DGfI) conference
  • 2017 - Kyoto T Cell Conference (KTCC2017) Travel Award
  • 2017 - Best Poster Award at the KTCC2017
  • 2016 - American Association of Immunologists (AAI) Travel Grant
  • 2016 - Univ. of Minnesota Center for Immunology (UMN CFI) International Travel Award
  • 2012 - UQ Diamantina Institute Student Travel Award
  • 2012 - ASI travel bursary 2012
  • 2009 - Univ. of QLD (UQ) Inter-national Research Tuition Award (UQIRTA)
  • 2021 - 10X "Start Single Cell" Fellowship
  • 2019 - Australian Society for Parasitology (ASP)
  • 2018 - American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • 2018 - Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology (ASI)
  • 2017 - Society for Mucosal Immunology (SMI)
  • 2016 - American Association of Immunologists (AAI)
  • 2009 to 2016 - Australasian Society for Immunology (ASI)
  • 2021 - Editorial Board of Infectious Diseases – Surveillance, Prevention and Treatment (Review Editor) for Frontiers in Public Health and Frontiers in Medicine
  • 2021 - Review Editor for Frontiers in Immunology, section Cytokines and Soluble Mediators in Immunity
  • 2013 - Winner of an iQ (QLD branch of ASI) immunology competition
  • 2012 - Runner-up, Univ. of QLD Diamantina Institute 3 Minute Thesis competition
  • 2021 - Centre for Tropical Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology (CTBMB) Single Cell RNA Sequencing access grant
  • 2020 - Center for Molecular Therapeutics Research Funding Scheme grant
  • 2009 to 2013 - Univ. of QLD (UQ) Research Scholarship (UQRS)

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 28+ research outputs authored by Dr Roland Ruscher from 2007 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

National Health & Medical Research Council - Investigator Grants

Age-associated properties of intraepithelial lymphocytes, and their relation to intestinal diseases

Indicative Funding
$600,740 over 5 years
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and colorectal cancer are a severe burden to those affected. While the peak onset age of IBD lies in early adulthood, colorectal cancer predominantly affects people over 50 years of age. How gut immunity fails in the context of age is poorly understood. This program will establish cornerstones of the intestinal immune system over different stages in life, and thereby help to design better treatment strategies that are adjusted to an individual?s age.
Roland Ruscher (Australian Institute of Tropical Health & Medicine)
IBD; IEL; T Cells; Colitis; Mucosal Immunology; Colorectal cancer

National Health & Medical Research Council - Ideas Grants

Discovering novel drug lead molecules for inflammatory bowel disease from Australian Aboriginal tropical medicinal plants

Indicative Funding
$1,209,524 over 5 years
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a debilitating disease, which has no cure. It costs the Australian Health System billions of dollars in hospitalisation, management and lost productivity, thereby precipitating the need for novel drugs. Building on my extensive preliminary data, we aim to discover novel drug leads from Aboriginal medicinal plants, which are currently used for treating inflammatory conditions by the Mbabaram community of the Atherton Tablelands.
Phurpa Wangchuk, Roland Ruscher, Joanne Jamie, Stephen Pyne, Darren Crayn and Gerald Turpin (Australian Institute of Tropical Health & Medicine, Macquarie University, University of Wollongong, College of Science & Engineering and Australian Tropical Herbarium)
Aboriginal medicinal plants; Anti-inflammatory activities; Inflammatory Bowel Disease; Biologically active molecules; New drug leads; Metabolomics

Childrens Hospital Foundation - Research Grant

Novel biologics for pediatric inflammatory bowel disease and necrotising enterocolitis, inspired by host-parasite co-evolution.

Indicative Funding
$50,000 over 2 years
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) pose a major health burden with severe symptoms, and IBD onset in childhood is on the rise. Necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) is another inflammatory bowel condition that affects preterm infants, and in which inflamed parts of the gut die. Current treatment methods are insufficient. Intestinal parasites have developed strategies to modulate our immune responses through secreted proteins. We identified seven helminth-secreted proteins that suppress gut inflammation. We now would like to assess which of our preselected proteins are best in the context of early life IBD and NEC.
Roland Ruscher in collaboration with Alex Loukas and Paul Giacomin (Australian Institute of Tropical Health & Medicine, College of Public Health and Medical & Vet Sciences)
IBD; Pediatric IBD; T Cells; Helminth therapy; Immunology; Necrotising enterocolitis

National Health & Medical Research Council - Development Grant

Hookworm peptide therapeutic for oral treatment of IBD

Indicative Funding
$732,700 over 2 years
We intend to develop an orally delivered peptide that can modulate the immune system and be developed as a therapeutic for inflammatory bowel disease. We have identified a peptide, derived from a hookworm protein, that alleviates the clinical symptoms of experimental colitis when orally administered to mice. The peptide has bioactivity with human cells ex vivo and displays desirable drug-like properties. The aim of this project is to acquire further data on the mechanism of action and formulation conditions to facilitate formal product development prior to licensing and clinical trials.
Alex Loukas, Norelle Daly, Paul Giacomin, John Miles, Roland Ruscher, Keith Dredge, Istvan Toth, Mariusz Skwarczynski, Matthew Moyle, Ashley Waardenberg, John Croese, Matt Field and Tony Rahman (Australian Institute of Tropical Health & Medicine, The University of Queensland and The Prince Charles Hospital)
Inflammatory Bowel Disease; Peptide; therapeutic; Hookworm; Oral delivery

Advisory Accreditation: I can be on your Advisory Panel as a Primary or Secondary Advisor.

These Higher Degree Research projects are either current or by students who have completed their studies within the past 5 years at JCU. Linked titles show theses available within ResearchOnline@JCU.

  • Structure and Function of Novel Peptides from Cone Snail Venom (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Novel type 2 diabetes therapeutics from recombinant human hookworm secretome (PhD , Secondary Advisor)
  • Shaping of intestinal T cells by physiological microbial diversification, and consequences for colorectal cancer (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • The Role of Intestinal T Cells in Gut Homeostasis and Disease (PhD , Primary Advisor)
  • Ethnobotany and the biological activities of Iningai and Mbabaram Medicinal Plants (Masters , Secondary Advisor)
  • Biodiscovery of anti-inflammatory drug lead molecules from Australian wet tropics plants and parasites (2023, PhD , Secondary Advisor)

The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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