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Co-Lead, Bacterial Respiratory Infectious Disease Group, Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines & Infectious Diseases


Dr Ruth Thornton (BSc, PhD) is a Passe and Williams Mid-Career Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia and Co-Lead of the Bacterial Respiratory Infectious Disease Group at the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases, based at Telethon Kids Institute. Her research interests lie in understanding the interactions between bacteria and the host in chronic and recurrent respiratory infections including ear, nose and throat infections, and chronic lung disease.

Dr Thornton’s research into the role of bacterial biofilms, intracellular persistence, and host immunity in recurrent middle ear infections (otitis media) has changed paradigms in understanding and treating otitis media. She demonstrated that otopathogenic bacteria exist in biofilms and intracellularly in the middle ear mucosa of children with chronic and recurrent otitis media. She also demonstrated that the middle ear fluid contains host DNA which can be used by the bacteria as scaffolding to persist in the middle ear. This DNA scaffolding can be targeted to prevent recurrent ear infections and repeat surgeries following grommet surgery. This is the basis of the WA Department of Health funded ATOMIC Ears study which she currently leads, investigating the safety and effectiveness of using an anti-biofilm agent to treat recurrent and chronic otitis media.

Dr Thornton’s expertise further lies in developing paediatric focused, laboratory-based research platforms critical to unravel pathologic mechanisms of respiratory tract infections and the impact of vaccines. These include small-volume immune assays and specialist microscopy techniques which are now core techniques within her laboratory. These all contribute to her overall goal in understanding host-microbial interactions, and why certain therapies may or may not work in high-risk populations, so as to improve treatment and prevention of chronic respiratory infections.