Infection, Immunology & Translational Medicine (IITM) Oxford

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Oliver Harrison

We catch up with Oliver Harrison about his current career and his thoughts about the IITM programme.


Ollie Harrison

Ollie completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Bath on the Masters in Pharmacology course during which he secured an industrial research placement at GlaxoSmithKline, Pennsylvania, USA. It was here that he first became interested in immunology and went on to complete rotation projects with Paul Klenerman, Kevin Maloy and Vincenzo Cerundolo before settling on Kevin Maloy’s lab for his main DPhil project. He graduated in 2014.

Ollie’s project was focussed on the role of IL-1 family cytokines in the induction and regulation of intestinal inflammation. He explained: “We demonstrated a key role for the cytokine IL-1beta in promoting accumulation and effector function of distinct populations of colitogenic effector cell types, ILC3 and Th17 cells. We demonstrated a novel role for the cytokine IL-18 in negatively regulating colonic Th17 accumulation during homeostasis, and promoting Foxp3+ Treg cell function during control of intestinal inflammation.” These findings demonstrated that IL-1 family cytokines are key components of intestinal immunity in health and disease.

Now a post-doctoral visiting fellow in Dr Yasmine Belkaid’s lab at the National Institutes of Health, USA, Ollie is continuing to pursue his interests in mucosal immunology and is investigating how commensal-specific T cell responses are mounted, regulated, and impact host tissue physiology.

“The unique part of the IITM programme was that it allowed integration into different institutes around Oxford”

Ollie believes the rotational aspect of the IITM programme was particularly beneficial in allowing him to gather more practical experience of immunology research and in helping to find a lab which was the best fit for him. Ollie sought expertise from the Powrie lab to conduct his project work – something that would probably have been more difficult on a departmental DPhil programme. He mentioned: “The unique part of the IITM programme was that it allowed integration into different institutes around Oxford, which proved very fruitful later in my studies when we sought new techniques and collaborations to ask our questions.”

“Most of my immunology knowledge I learnt on the fly from a great bunch of students and post-docs once I’d started”

His advice to those considering a DPhil is to just apply if you’re enthusiastic about the subject: “Coming from a different background won’t hamper you – my training came in handy occasionally, but most of my immunology knowledge I learnt on the fly from a great bunch of students and post-docs once I’d started.” He also suggests research experience is always advantageous in your application, as well as allowing you to hit the ground running when you start.

There are many different science-based careers someone can take up after a DPhil; Ollie says to explore these to find the most suitable for you. “For me, the bench and being a post-doc beckoned as I aim to have my own research group, but if it’s not for you, go do something else. Science is hard enough when you’re enjoying it, no reason to be doing it if you don’t!”

Publications from IITM:

Kabat, A., Harrison, O.J., Moghaddam, A.E., Pearson, C., Laing, A., Abeler-Dorner, L., Forman, S., Grencis, R.K., Sattentau, Q., Simon, A.K., Pott, J., Maloy, K.J. (2016). The IBD-associated autophagy gene Atg16l1 differentially regulates Treg and Th2 cells to control intestinal inflammation. Elife. Feb 24;5:e12444. 

Harrison, O.J., Srinivasan, N., Pott, J., Schiering, C., Krausgruber, T., Ilott, N.E., Maloy, K.J. (2015). Epithelial-derived IL-18 regulates Th17 cell differentiation and Foxp3+ Treg cell function in the intestine. Mucosal Immunol. Nov;8(6):1226-36.

Schiering, C., Krausgruber, T., Chomka, A., Frohlich, A., Adelmann, K., Wohlfert, E.A., Pott, J., Griseri, T., Bollrath, J., Hegazy, A.N., Harrison, O.J., Owens, B.M., Lohning, M., Belkaid, Y., Fallon, P.G., Powrie, F. (2014). The alarmin IL-33 promotes regulatory T-cell function in the intestine. Nature. Sep 25;513(7519):564-8.

Harrison, O.J., & Powrie, F.M. (2013). Regulatory T cells and immune tolerance in the intestine. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. Jul 1;5(7).

Kirchberger, S., Royston, D., Boulard, O., Thornton, E., Franchini, F., Szabady, R.L.,   Harrison, O., Powrie, F. (2013). Innate lymphoid cells sustain colon cancer through production of interleukin-22 in a mouse model. J Exp Med. May 6;210(5):917-31.

Coccia, M., Harrison, O.J., Schiering, C., Asquith, M.J., Becher, B., Powrie, F., Maloy, K.J. (2012). IL-1β mediates chronic intestinal inflammation by promoting the accumulation of IL-17A secreting innate lymphoid cells and CD4+ Th17 cells. J Exp Med. Aug 27;209(9):1595-609.

Harrison, O.J., & Maloy, K.J. (2011). Innate immune activation in intestinal homeostasis. J Innate Immun. 3(6):585-93.