An international team including Professors Jamie Rossjohn from Monash University, Dale Godfrey from the University of Melbourne, and Branch Moody from Harvard University, used the Australian Synchrotron to investigate how the immune system in human skin detects lipid molecules. Their findings may help in the fight against bacterial infections, cancerous cells and allergies caused by allergens such as pollen.

Professors Dale Godfrey (UniMelb) and Jamie Rossjohn (Monash)Photos at left (L-R): Professors Dale Godfrey and Jamie Rossjohn are part of an international team investigating how the immune system functions in human skin


“Specialised cells bearing receptors for lipids in the skin act as ‘border guards’,” Professor Rossjohn said. “Depending on what kind of lipids are present, these cells have the ability to alert the body to the presence of potentially dangerous foreign invaders.

“Using x-ray crystallography at the Synchrotron, we've captured very detailed images, down to the level of molecules and atoms, of how receptors on lymphocytes in the immune system detect these lipids, which is a key step that initiates the activation of the immune response," Professor Godfrey said. “As we learn more about the immune response to lipids, we should be able to apply this knowledge to developing more effective vaccines and potentially new ways to suppress allergic reactions.”

The team’s latest findings were published online in Nature Immunology in February 2015.

Interview on 774 ABC Radio Melbourne