Professor Roberto La Ragione
Academic and research departmentsSchool of Veterinary Medicine.
Roberto graduated in 1995 and then went on to study for a post graduate degree in veterinary microbiology at the Royal Veterinary College (University of London). In 1996 he moved to the government's Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) to undertake a PhD on the pathogenesis of E. coli in poultry. On completion of his PhD studies, Roberto commenced a post-doctoral position at Royal Holloway, University of London, studying E. coli virulence factors and vaccine development. Since 2001 his work has focused largely on the analysis of the colonisation, shedding and transmission of E. coli O157:H7 by all farmed animal species and he has led a number of commercial, Defra, research council (BBSRC, MRC, EPSRC, AHRC, Innovate) and EU projects in this area. He has published extensively in the area of host-microbe interaction with a particular emphasis on E. coli and Salmonella. His current research interests focus on the pathogenesis of food-borne pathogens with a particular interest on AMR and the development of intervention strategies including vaccination, pre and probiotics for the control of bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella, Brachyspira and E. coli in food producing animals. In 2005, Roberto was appointed Head of Pathogenesis and Control at the AHVLA and in 2010 he was appointed Professor of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology at the University of Surrey. He gained the FRCPath in 2010 and in 2012 was appointed the Associate Dean for Veterinary Strategy in the new School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey. In 2014 he was appointed to the position of Head of the Department of Pathology and Infectious Diseases and Director of the Veterinary Pathology Centre. In 2019 he was appointed Deputy Head of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey. He is the past president of the Med-Vet-Net Association and the Veterinary Research Club, the current chair of the Humanimal Trust, a member of the Houghton Trust, a member of the APHA science advisory board and the chair of the Royal College of Pathologists Veterinary Pathology SAC.
University roles and responsibilities
- Module coordinator for MSc Vet Micro research projects
- Head of Department (Pathology and Infectious Diseases)
- Professor of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology
- Vet Sch SMT member
- Deputy chair of AWERB committee
- Deputy Head of School
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Many species of bacteria are associated with clinical disease in animals and humans and some bacterial pathogens are zoonotic (can be transmitted from animals to humans). The research interests of Roberto's group focus on understanding the detailed mechanisms that bacterial pathogens of veterinary and medical importance employ in order to colonise the host. Through a greater understanding of the pathobiology of these economically important pathogens the group hopes to develop novel intervention strategies.
Much of his group's research has focused on in vitro characterisation of host-microbe interactions in order to develop appropriate intervention strategies. In order to accurately study these interactions in greater detail appropriate models are necessary. In the laboratory the group has developed a number of novel models, but specifically 3D cell culture, in vitro gut models and in vitro organ culture which have facilitated the accurate recreation of the host environment in vitro. His research was the first to report on porcine and murine 3D cell culture and In Vitro Organ Culture (IVOC) for use in the study of pre and probiotics. The models have also enabled the study of a number of pathogens including E. coli, Salmonella, Clostridia, Brachyspira, Yersinia and fastidious viruses.
Roberto's research focuses on understanding how AMR develops and what influences the transmission dynamics of AMR between human and animal pathogens, and recent studies have focused on the role of AMR in the fitness of pathogens. Roberto's group is also developing a number of rapid diagnostic platforms to rapidly diagnose infections and determine the antibiotic resistance profile of pathogens to improve prescribing practices.
Development of alternatives to antibiotics
Roberto's research has focused specifically on elucidating the mechanisms by which pre and probiotics elicit their effect. Thus far these studies have demonstrated that pre and probiotics act in a complex dynamic with the microbe and the host, regulating both at the molecular level. Thus, these studies have revolutionised how the scientific community studies pre and probiotics, and has led to vastly improved formulations, some of which are now commercially available worldwide. Roberto's group are also focusing on understanding the changes that occur to the gut microbiome during health and disease.
His research has focused on elucidating the pathogenic mechanisms by which avian E. coli cause disease in poultry. These studies have revealed that a number of surface exposed organelles are important for pathogenesis and furthermore that avian pathogenic E.-coli (APEC) are closely related to the human pathogen UPEC responsible for urinary tract infections. His group developed the first commercial APEC vaccine which has had international success.
Avian intestinal spirochaetosis
Roberto's research has focused on revealing the virulence factors of Brachyspira, developing in vitro models for studying infection dynamics and the development of intervention studies. Present studies are aimed at understanding the UK prevalence of Brachyspira in laying flocks and the development of rapid diagnostics and therapeutics. His group has is also heavily involved in correlating genotype with phenotype in host restricted and non-host restricted Brachyspira species.
Much of his group’s research in this area has been aimed at furthering the understanding of the pathobiology of Salmonella through linking genomic features with phenotype. Roberto's group also has also been sentinel in the development and validation of vaccines for livestock. The work undertaken by his group has contributed significantly to the reduction in Salmonella in livestock and humans. The group also has an interest in new and emerging pathotypes of Salmonella, and linking genotype to phenotype using NGS and Biolog platforms.
The primary aim of his research has been to elucidate the pathobiology of these fascinating organisms and to develop potential intervention strategies such as recombinant antibodies expressed in plants. Roberto's group was the first to describe the colonisation characteristics of enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) in poultry, pigs, sheep and goats together with describing the role of key colonisation factors in these species. His group was also the first to associate O157:H7 infection with Cryptosporidium in small ruminants. Collectively these studies have led to a greater understanding of the specific colonisation sites of AEEC in animals and thus the implementation of control strategies
Postgraduate research supervision
Roberto currently supervises 6 PhD students. During his career he has successfully supervised over 25 students.