ARE 2015

Professor James McCluskey & Professor Jamie Rossjohn

University of Melbourne and Monash University

Area of Research Excellence: Immunology

James McCluskey (University of Melbourne) and Jamie Rossjohn (Monash University) have been working in collaboration for 12 years.

Their research is inspired by a mutual interest in how the immune system does, and doesn’t, work.

This relates to how it recognises pathogens (harmful germs) like salmonella and mycobacteria that cause tuberculosis. Their long term quest to understand what these cells do and see, is a great example of curiosity-led science and could impact on our understanding of a range of ailments such as inflammatory bowel disease, peptic ulcers, tuberculosis and lead to better vaccines.

McCluskey and Rossjohn have been studying a group of lymphocytes called Mucosal associated invariant T (MAIT) cells. These are found in mucosal sites such as the gut, lungs and the liver. Nobody knows what they do and what it is they recognise in bacteria. These cells are quite prominent and have receptors on their membrane that are the same in all humans.

Their work has led them to understand that the manufacture of vitamin B2 plays an extremely important protective role in alerting the immune system to foreign bacteria.

Our teams are working extremely hard to see where this discovery will take them and to ensure the best fundamental science will lead to the best innovative therapeutics.

Professor Jamie Rossjohn

Vitamins are vital to living cells. Humans don’t make their own but derive them from diet, whereas bacteria must make their own vitamins. This means the building blocks of vitamins are foreign molecules to a mammal or a human being. One of their key recent discoveries has been to show that MAIT cells recognise metabolites, or by-products arising from the bacterial production of vitamin B2 or riboflavin. This work is part of a larger piece of work about what the immune system recognises in general.

McCluskey and Rossjohn are at an exciting point in this research and winning the GSK Award for Research Excellence will help them continue their valuable work and nurture young talent in their laboratories.