Lucille Rankin

Lucille Rankin

Dr Lucille Rankin’s PhD studies, completed in 2015, revealed how are a newly discovered type of immune cell contribute to digestive health.

Dr Rankin’s research focused on innate lymphoid cells (ILCs). These immune cells, found in the lining of body surfaces including the digestive system, play a crucial role in regulating immune responses and preventing immune disorders such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis. 

Promoting intestinal health 

Lucille Rankin and Jo Groom
Dr Lucille Rankin (L) and Dr Joanna Groom
worked together to understand how innate
lymphoid cells develop

Dr Rankin’s PhD research focused on how ILCs develop and function.

Ms Rankin said she and her supervisor, Professor Gabrielle Belz, were surprised to discover that although ILCs functioned in a different way from immune T and B cells, the three cell types shared many developmental features. “The development of T and B cells is well understood,” she said.

“Despite the important role of ILCs in the early stages of the immune response, until our research very few people had looked at how they develop.” 

In 2013, as first author on a paper in the journal Nature Immunology, Dr Rankin showed that the gene T-bet is essential for the production of intestinal ILCs. The research also suggested that diet may control ILC production, and in this way influence and improve intestinal health. 

Revealing the role of the appendix

In a second Nature Immunology paper in 2015, Dr Rankin, Professor Belz and their colleagues at the Institute and at the Centre d’Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy, France, demonstrated that ILCs helped the appendix maintain digestive health

“ILCs protect the gut during an infection, Dr Rankin said.

“This allows specialised organs such as the appendix to reseed ‘good’ bacteria throughout the body and restore digestive balance,” she said. “We hope that understanding the biology of ILCs could lead to new approaches to adjusting their activity to treat disease.”

Benefits of collaboration 

Dr Lucille Rankin in the lab
Dr Lucille Rankin received a commendation
in the Victorian Premier’s Award for Health
and Medical Research in 2015

Dr Rankin said the success of the study was a testament to the collaborative environment at the institute.

“I enjoyed engaging with my colleagues at all levels, which allowed for the flowing of ideas and resources,” she said. 

Dr Rankin’s success during her PhD studies led to her receiving a commendation in the Victorian Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research in 2015. 

She is now undertaking postdoctoral training at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, US, where she is investigating how interactions between bacteria and diet may influence the immune system.

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