A/Prof Katharina Ronacher

MSc, PhD

Principal Research Fellow - Group Leader Infection, Immunity and Metabolism

My Research

Infection, Immunity and Metabolism

Projects

Altered immune-endocrine axis during type 2 diabetes and tuberculosis risk

Type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM2) is on the rise in developing countries where tuberculosis (TB) is endemic with now more individuals suffering and dying from TB-DM2 than TB-HIV co-infection. DM2 increases the risk of TB significantly, but it is unknown how this increased risk occurs. This project investigates the role that hormones and the immune system play in increasing TB risk among household contacts of TB patients with and without DM2, both in the blood and the lungs, the latter the site of infection.

Host-directed therapies for the treatment of intracellular infections

Intracellular pathogens are difficult to eradicate as they hide within host cells to evade the host's immune system. One of these pathogens is Mycobacterium tuberculosis.   

Despite effective anti-biotic therapy the majority of "cured" tuberculosis patients continue to have active lung lesions containing live mycobacteria beyond treatment completion. For this reason we have been unable to eradicate this ancient disease, which has been with human kind for over 9000 years. Sub-optimal, non-sterilizing treatment combined with the concurrent rise in antibiotic resistance thus necessitates innovative treatment strategies.

We have identified several promising host-targets and have BSc hons, MPhil, PhD positions available on this topic in our laboratory. 

Harnessing oxidised cholesterols to improve bacterial and viral respiratory infection outcomes

Our laboratory recently identified a role for oxidised cholesterols in the lung during both bacterial and viral respiratory infections. This project investigates the role oxysterols play in the lung during influenza, COVID-19 and tuberculosis and how this knowledge can be exploited to improve respiratory infection outcomes.

BSc hons, MPhil and PhD positions are available on these projects.

About me

A/Prof Katharina Ronacher obtained an MSc degree in Medical Biochemistry from the University of Vienna (Austria). Thereafter, she was awarded a prestigious fellowship from the Austrian Ministry of Science and Technology to complete a PhD at the University of Cape Town (South Africa). She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Stellenbosch University, where she was subsequently offered a faculty position. A/Prof Ronacher was Senior Scientist on several large clinical research trials funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Union and the US National Institutes of Health with focus on identification of biomarkers for tuberculosis (TB) treatment response. In parallel, she established her independent research group investigating how endocrine factors impact immune responses to TB, for which she received uninterrupted funding from national and international funding bodies since 2008. In 2015, she was awarded a NIH R01 grant for her ground-breaking research into the underlying immunological and metabolic mechanisms of increased susceptibility of diabetes patients to TB. With this grant she has lead the international ALERT Consortium with clinical field sites in South Africa and at the Texas/Mexico border.

She relocated to Brisbane in 2017, where she now heads the Infection, Immunity and Metabolism group at the Mater Research Institute – University of Queensland, but continues to collaborate with clinicians and researchers in South Africa, the USA and Europe.

A/Prof Ronacher's current research investigates the underlying immunological mechanisms contributing to more severe bacterial and viral respiratory infections in obesity and diabetes. Her research provides critical insights into the role of cholesterol and its derivatives in regulation of inflammation in the lung and how this knowledge can be exploided for novel therapeutic approaches to treat respiratory infections.

A/Prof Ronacher has published in high-ranking journals including Nature, Nature Medicine, JAMA and Clinical and Infectious Diseases. Two of her articles have been cited by WHO policy documents, highlighting the impact of her research on clinical practice, and nine publications have been cited by 17 patent applications.

 

Grants and Funding

US National Institutes of Health (NIH), Australian Respiratory Council, Mater Foundation

Research fields

Infectious diseases, tuberculosis, influenza, COVID-19, innate immunity, host-directed therapies

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