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

PhD

Dr Ruth Thornton is a BrightSpark Foundation Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia and Honorary Research Fellow with the Telethon Kids Institute where she is the Immunology lead within the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases. 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 PhD from the University of Western Australia demonstrated that otopathogenic bacteria exist in both biofilms and intracellularly in the middle ear mucosa of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children with chronic and recurrent otitis media. She also demonstrated that the middle ear effusion contains host DNA which can be used by the bacteria as scaffolding to maintain an infectious reservoir in the middle ear. This DNA scaffolding may provide a treatment target to prevent recurrent ear infections and repeat surgeries following initial ventilation tube insertions. Her research into the role of bacterial biofilms, intracellular persistence and host immunity in recurrent middle ear infections (OM) has changed paradigms in the understanding and treatment of OM. This research has directly translated into clinical trials to improve surgical outcomes for OM and will be used in improving treatment outcomes for children with OM with effusion and recurrent acute OM, as well as for Indigenous children with chronic suppurative OM.

Immunological assessments in these children have demonstrated differences in the way Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children with chronic and recurrent otitis media respond to important vaccine antigens and candidates. These differences will be the subject of further investigation within the group so as to determine the most appropriate treatment and prevention strategies to achieve a positive outcome for all children with otitis media.