Our research focus

Function of intestinal immune cells in bowel cancer

Intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs) are immune cells which continually survey intestinal epithelial cells for infection or damage. Bowel cancer forms when the epithelial cells become damaged and change, growing in an uncontrolled manner. The role of IELs in this process, and whether or not they play a role in tumour cell growth or killing tumour cells, has not been studied in detail. Our laboratory aims to understand these cells, including the molecules that regulate their function in steady state development and in the development of cancer. 

Regulation of cytokines in the gastrointestinal tract

Cytokines, such as IL-17 and IL-22, are secreted by immune cells and are critical in boosting epithelial cell and tumour survival in the intestine. Bowel cancer patients with increased IL-17 and IL-22 levels experience increased tumour growth and have a poorer prognosis. We are dissecting the molecular pathways and cell types involved in regulating IL-17 and IL-22 production to investigate the role these cytokines play in bowel cancer progression. It is crucial that we understand these mechanisms so we can develop new immune cell-mediated therapies to treat gastrointestinal cancers.

Influence of the microbiome on immune health  

Each person’s microbiome is unique and is made up of good bacteria, viruses and fungi which live on the body’s surfaces, such as the skin and intestine. Our understanding of these resident microbes and how they affect the body’s immune response to an infectious organism or disease, such as cancer, is limited. We are working to understand the mechanisms which link the microbiome to overall immune cell health, including the activation of transcription factors that guide immune cell development, as well as the cytokines they secrete in order to communicate with the rest of the body’s cells.

Fast facts

As well as being found in the blood, immune cells are also in the body’s tissues, which they continuously survey for infection and cancer.

Mucus-covered tissues including the lungs and gastrointestinal tract. These sites are home to specialised immune cells, which play a critical role in maintaining mucosal surfaces in order to protect the body from the external environment.

All the bacteria and other microbes that live on the body’s surfaces, such as the skin and intestine. Interaction between these microbes and immune cells is critical in shaping the immune system, and can even influence the body’s response to some cancer treatments.

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Recent publications


Crosstalk between epithelium, myeloid and innate lymphoid cells during gut homeostasis and disease

DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2022.944982

16 September 2022

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Epithelial de-differentiation triggered by co-ordinate epigenetic inactivation of the EHF and CDX1 transcription factors drives colorectal cancer progression

DOI: 10.1038/s41418-022-01016-w

23 May 2022

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Innate Lymphoid Cells in Colorectal Cancers: A Double-Edged Sword

DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.03080

15 January 2020

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Our team

Meet our researchers

  • Dr Lisa Mielke - Head, Mucosal Immunology Laboratory Publications
  • Sonia Ghilas - Postdoctoral Research Fellow
  • Kelly Tran - Research Assistant
  • Chloe Jackson - PhD Student
  • Pavitha Parathan - PhD Student
  • Katherine Eljammas - Honours Student