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PhD student Ryan Kyle's research published in Nature Immunology

22 April 2013

Itchy skin rashes and parasitic worm infections are all part of an average day for Malaghan Institute PhD student Ryan Kyle. Under the supervision of Professor Graham Le Gros, he is undertaking world-class research into the allergic immune response – having come a long way from childhood experiments with baking soda and vinegar volcanoes.

“Coming into work each day and doing an experiment that no person in the world has ever done before, or maybe even thought of, is exciting in itself,” says Ryan. “Then seeing the data and outcomes of that hard work being published, well nothing can beat that feeling.”

Ryan is referring to his collaborative research with scientists from Sydney’s Centenary Institute, published online today in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Immunology. This is a lifetime goal of any scientist, and an astounding achievement for a young PhD student.

Ryan’s PhD research is focused on understanding the mechanisms that underlie allergic disease and how the body protects itself from parasites such as hookworm.

“The way your immune systems works to protect against recurrent worm infections is very similar to how it is working when it responds to innocuous things, like peanuts and dust mites, causing allergies. My research is focused on the very early events that take place during these immune responses - which cell types are responding and how they communicate with other cells around them.”

It was the characterisation of a unique type of immune cell in the skin and the demonstration that these cells can drive the development of allergic skin disease that led to the Nature Immunology paper.

“Working alongside Dr Ben Roediger and Professor Wolfgang Weninger from the Centenary Institute, and learning their techniques for studying cells in the skin, was an amazing experience. Having my work contribute to second authorship on such an important paper still feels a little unreal.”

Ryan hasn’t let the glory go to his head though. “Like most other students, I’m always on the look out for a cheap beer and free food.”

It was an immunology paper during his undergrad at Victoria University of Wellington that really sold Ryan on immunology. “Learning about how all the different parts of the immune system work together to fight disease really fascinated me. When I finished my Honours project I looked for a PhD position in immunology and the Malaghan was a natural choice.”

In the long term, Ryan hopes his research will contribute to work that could prevent the development of allergic diseases in children. It also has the potential to help with the design of vaccines to eliminate parasitic diseases, especially in third world countries.

For those interested in pursuing a career in science, Ryan recommends talking to as many people as possible, at various stages of their careers. “Science is not for everyone. It involves some long hours and a lot of commitment, and jobs at the top are very few.”

Ryan’s frustrating moments will sound familiar to anyone involved in research – when a particular task or experiment just doesn’t work, your lab mate gets it to work perfectly every time, and you can’t figure out what you’re doing differently. But as Ryan says, “All scientists need to be good problem solvers and the challenge of figuring out why things aren’t working, or if there’s a different way of doing it, can be motivating as well.”

For Ryan, these challenges are more than outweighed by a passion for learning and problem solving. Through science, Ryan is meeting and working with people across the globe, and doing things that no one else in the world has done before.

Publication details

Roediger B, Kyle R, Ho Yip K, Sumaria N, Guy TV, Kim BS, Mitchell AJ, Tay SS, Jain R, Forbes-Blom E, Chen X, Tong PL, Bolton HA, Artis D, Paul WE, Fazekas de St Groth B, Grimbaldeston MA, Le Gros G, Weninger W (2013) Cutaneous immunosurveillance and regulation of inflammation by group 2 innate lymphoid cells. Nature Immunology (in press).