Our people

Dr Kerry Hilligan

Kerry joined the Malaghan Institute in 2012 to undertake post-graduate research in Prof. Franca Ronchese’s  Immune Cell Biology Programme. Her research has centred around a population of innate immune cells, known as antigen-presenting cells (APC), that play vital role in initiating immune responses. After gaining a Master of Biomedical Science in 2014, Kerry embarked on her PhD research as a Margaret Livingston Scholar, focusing on skin-associated APC and their regulation of immune responses to bacteria, fungi and allergens.

Research interests

I am interested in understanding the initial signalling events that initiate and direct immune responses. In particular, I am fascinated by a population of innate immune cells, known as antigen-presenting cells (APC), that play an important role in dictating the outcome of an immune response. I am working to understand how APC recognise and respond to material from different pathogens and allergens, and ultimately, regulate the function of effector immune cells. The aim of this research is to inform vaccine design and assist with therapeutic strategies for autoimmune and allergic diseases.

Research group

Immune Cell Biology
Immune Cell Biology Programme Leader: Professor Franca Ronchese
Senior Research Fellow: Dr Olivier Lamiable
Research Fellow: Dr Johannes Mayer
Senior Research Officer: Shiau-Choot Tang
Evelyn Hyde
Dr Jianping (Mark) Yang
Research Officer: Kirsty Wakelin
PhD Student: Kerry Hilligan
Masters Student: Rhiannon Sexton

Research projects

A remarkable feature of the mammalian immune system is the way in which immune responses, in particular CD4+ T cell responses, are specifically tailored towards different pathogens and antigens. My research is focussed on understanding how CD4+ T cell responses are regulated, by studying antigen presenting cells (APC) exposed to material from bacteria, helminths or fungi. As part of an international collaboration, we have sequenced the genetic information of more than 13,000 individual cells to uncover the early signals APC receive from pathogens and the tissue environment. This type of data is crucial to further our understanding how APC influence and instruct CD4+ T cell responses, as well as responses to vaccine preparations.  

In addition, I have an interest in CD4+ T cell responses in the context of helminth infection and allergy. T helper 2 (Th2) cells are generated in both these circumstances, presumably via similar or overlapping pathways. APC are required for the initiation of Th2 responses, but the instructive signals involved in the specific promotion Th2 responses are unclear. Using mouse models, we aim to uncover signalling pathways that could be potential targets for the treatment and prevention of allergic disease.



R Blecher-Gonen, P Bost, KL Hilligan, E David, T Meir-Salame, B Cohen-Toth, E Roussel, JU Mayer, LM Connor, S Itzkovitz, B Schikowski, F Ronchese, I Amit, (2019). Single-Cell Analysis of Diverse Pathogen Responses Defines a Molecular Roadmap for Generating Antigen-Specific Immunity. Cell Syst. doi: 10.1016/j.cels.2019.01.001. 


LM Connor, S-C Tang, E Cognard, S Ochiai, KL Hilligan, SI Old, C Pellefigues, RF White, D Patel, AAT Smith, DA Eccles, O Lamiable, MJ McConnell and F Ronchese, (2017). Th2 responses are primed by skin dendritic cells with distinct transcriptional profiles. J Exp Med. doi: 10.1084/jem.20160470


KL Hilligan, LM Connor, AJ Schmidt and F Ronchese, (2016). Activation-Induced TIM-4 Expression Identifies Differential Responsiveness of Intestinal CD103+ CD11b+ Dendritic Cells to a Mucosal Adjuvant. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0158775. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158775.