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Microbiology Logo Microbiology & Immunology
Te Tari Moromoroiti me te Ārai Mate

Associate Professor Joanna Kirman

Research interests:

Applied, cellular and molecular immunology, medical microbiology, vaccine immunology and technology

Current research:

Tuberculosis (TB) is a deadly lung disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) that kills more people every year than any other bacterial infection. One third of the world's population is estimated to be infected, and New Zealand is not exempt. We believe the best way to control the global TB epidemic is through vaccination.  Our lab's research is focused on understanding the generation and maintenance of immunological memory in order to improve vaccination against TB.  

 Lab group 

Screen Shot 2020 03 27 at 12.59.26 AM

Kirman Lab 2020



Kathy Sircombe2        PlaceholderFemale9   
Kathy Sircombe - Assistant Research Fellow  Dr Naomi Daniels - Postdoctoral Fellow

Postgraduate students

 Brin Rhyder2      

 Brin Ryder 

Postgraduate Writing Scholar

 Mitchell Foster - PhD Student    
Reshvinder Kaur Bedi - PGDip BMLSc Natasha Nair BSc (Hons)    

Research projects 

1. Dodging bullets: how the Beijing TB strain evades and subverts BCG-mediated trained innate immunity

Not all Mtb strains are equal. Beijing genotype Mtb strains display selective advantages over other genotypes including: greater virulence in animal studies; a higher capacity to withstand tuberculosis treatment; and increased relapse after treatment. The existing TB vaccine, bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG), is protective in ~50% of cases when delivered intradermally; however, BCG does not protect equally against all Mtb strains. In a case contact study of over 400 TB case households and over 1400 contacts in Indonesia (in which 1/3 of isolates were Beijing genotype), we found that although BCG vaccination was associated with protection in contacts exposed to non-Beijing strains there was no evidence of BCG protection against IGRA conversion in contacts exposed to a Beijing strain. In this project, we test the hypothesis that the Beijing TB strain evades and subverts BCG-mediated trained innate immunity using a mouse model of BCG vaccination and TB challenge. 

Collaborators: Marcela Henao-Tamayo (Colorado State University), Philip Hill (University of Otago)

Funding: Marsden Fund of New Zealand 

2. Role of Phagocytic Cells in the Induction of Immunity against Mycobacteria 

There are many different subsets of macrophages and DCs that can be distinguished by phenotype and function; the role that each subset plays during early TB infection is unclear. In this project we are assessing the ability of the different DC subsets to control early infection, using molecular and cellular methods (RNA-Seq, qRT-CPR, flow cytometry).

Collaborators: Marcela Henao-Tamayo (Colorado State University), Siouxsie Wiles (University of Auckland)

Funding: Otago Medical Research Foundation (grant completed)

3. Novel Design of TB Vaccines

One way to improve the TB vaccine is through the use of novel vaccine formulations, designed to protect the immune-stimulating protein (antigen) from destruction or to enable its persistence in the body. If more antigen reaches the appropriate immune cells, this may lead to a stronger immune response; and if antigen is able to persist in the body this may reduce the number of booster shots required, which would improve immunisation completion rates.  

Collaborators: Thomas Proft (University of Auckland)

Funding: Marsden Fund (grant completed)

4. The effect of BCG-induced trained innate immunity against abscess formation

The BCG vaccination can train innate immune cells to exhibit features of immunological memory, without the specificity of the adaptive immune response. In this study, we investigate the ability of the BCG vaccine to protect against polymicrobial skin abscess formation.

Collaborators: Daniel Pletzer (University of Otago)

Funding: BMS-Dean's Bequest

Recent publications 

Gr1int/high Cells Dominate the Early Phagocyte Response to Mycobacterial Lung Infection in Mice Brin M. Ryder1, Sarah K. Sandford1, Kate M. Manners1, James P. Dalton2, Siouxsie Wiles and Joanna R. Kirman Frontiers in Microbiology 2019 March 8

Design of Bacterial Inclusion Bodies as Antigen Carrier Systems. Chen S, Sandford S, Kirman J, Rehm BHA Advanced Biosystems 2018 v2 (11) article 1800118

Langerin+ CD8α+ Dendritic Cells Drive Early CD8+ T Cell Activation and IL-12 Production During Systemic Bacterial Infection. Prendergast KA, Daniels NJ, Petersen TR, Hermans IF, Kirman JR.
Front Immunol. 2018 May 7;9:953.

BCG vaccination drives accumulation and effector function of innate lymphoid cells in murine lungs. Steigler P,  Daniels  NJ, McCulloch TR,  Ryder BM,  Sandford SK, Kirman JR. Immunol Cell Biol (2018) 96(4):379-389

The Memory Immune Response to Tuberculosis. Kirman JR, Henao-Tamayo MI, Agger EM. Microbiol Spectr. (2016) Dec;4(6). 

IL-1βR-dependent priming of antitumor CD4+ T cells and sustained antitumor immunity after peri-tumoral treatment with MSU and mycobacteria. Kuhn, S., Yang, J., Hyde, E. J., Harper, J. L., Kirman, J. R., & Ronchese, F. (2015). OncoImmunology, 4(10), e1042199. 

Sustained in vivo depletion of splenic langerin+ CD8alpha+ dendritic cells is well-tolerated by lang-DTREGFP mice Prendergast KA, Osmond, TL, Ochiai S, Hermans IF, Kirman JR J Immunological Methods (2014) 406:104-9

Increased numbers of monocyte-derived dendritic cells during successful tumor immunotherapy with immune-activiting agents Kuhn S, Hyde EJ, Yang J, Rich FJ, Harper JL, Kirman JR, Ronchese F J Immunol (2013) 191: 1984-92

Detection of inhibitors of phenotypically drug-tolerant Mycobacterium tuberculosis using an in vitro bactericidal screen Bassett IM, Lun S, Bishai WR, Guo H, Kirman JR, Altaf M, O'Toole RF J Microbiol (2013) 51: 651-8

Dendritic cell subsets in mycobacterial infection: control of bacterial growth and T cell responses Prendergast KA, Kirman JR Tuberculosis (2013) 93: 115-122

Oral Vaccination with Lipid-formulated BCG induces a long-lived multifunctional CD4+ T cell memory immune response Ancelet LR, Aldwell FE, Rich FJ, Kirman JR PLoS ONE (2012) 7(9): e45888.

Dissecting memory T cell responses to TB: Concerns using adoptive transfer into immunodeficient mice.  Ancelet L, Rich FJ, Delahunt B, Kirman JR Tuberculosis (2012) 92: 422-433

Induction of T cell responses and recruitment of an inflammatory dendritic cell subsets following tumor immunotherapy with Mycobacterium smegmatis Rich FJ, Kuhn S, Hyde EJ, Harper JL, Ronchese F, Kirman JR Cancer Immunol Immunther (2012) 61: 2333-42

Shaping the CD4+ memory immune response against Tuberculosis: the role of antigen persistence, location and multi-functionality. Ancelet L and Kirman JR Biomolecular Concepts 3 (2012) 13-20

A key role for lung-resident memory Lymphocytes in protective immune responses after BCG vaccination Connor LM, Harvie MC, Rich FJ, Quinn KM, Brinkmann V, Le Gros G and Kirman JR European Journal of Immunology 40 (2010) 2482-2492

Geographical differences in the proportion of human group A rotavirus strains within New Zealand during one epidemic season Chandrahasen C, Grimwood K, Redshaw N, Rich FJ, Wood C, Standley J, Kirman JR and the New Zealand Rotavirus Study Group J Med Virol 82 (2010) 897-902


** We are currently seeking a highly motivated, excellent PhD candidate with an excellent academic record *

Public outreach on the COVID-19 epidemic

Radio New Zealand 2020 Our immune system vs coronavirus: ‘I think of it as an orchestra' (28 mins, produced by Allison Balance)

Stuff Podcast 2020 Claiming immunity: should COVID-19 survivors get better treatment? (26 mins, produced by Adam Dudding and Eugene Bingham)

ABC Radio National (Australia) How long will a COVID-19 vaccine take (42 mins, presented by Rod Quinn)

Otago Daily Times Therapeutic Drugs Needed (2020)

South China Morning Post Coronavirus vaccine will not be a magic bullet, scientists warn (by Simone McCarthy, 2020)

The Conversation, Stuff Could BCG, a 100-year-old vaccine for tuberculosis, protect against Covid-19? by Kylie Quinn, Jo Kirman, Katie Louise Flanagan and Magdalena Plebanski

Ten common misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccine, debunked (by Emily Writes, 2021)

Radio New Zealand 2021 COVID vaccine could soon be approved (9 minutes, produced by the The Panel)

Newstalk ZB Experts hopeful 35% of New Zealanders against jab will change their minds (Mike Hosking Breakfast, 2021)

Past Honours and Masters candidates (Otago)

  • Mariana Traslosheros-Reyes BSc Honours 2020
  • Nicole Krotky Masters 2020 (University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Austria)
  • Stephanie Waller BBiomedSci 2019
  • Mitchell Foster BSc Honours 2019
  • Likhit Dukkipati BSc Honours 2019
  • Laura Hughes BBiomedSc Honours 2018, David T Jones Prize (1st= BBioMedSci(Hons) student)
  • Shannon Frewen BSc Honours 2018
  • Claudia Lewis BBiomedSc Honours 2017
  • Lucy Huang BSc Honours 2017
  • Sarah Sandford BBioMedSc Honours 2016 - David T Jones Prize (topBBioMedSci(Hons) student)
  • Brin Ryder BSc Honours 2015 - John Miles Prize (top BSc(Hons) student), Best 4th year student presentation
  • Kate Manners BBioMedSc Honours 2014
  • Stephen Hall BBioMedSc Honours 2013 

Summer Students (Otago)

  • Ben Topham 2020
  • Mariana Trasloheros-Reyes 2019
  • Mitchell Foster 2018
  • Charlotte Cairns 2016
  • Claudia Lewis 2016
  • Sarah Sandford 2015
  • Brin Ryder 2014
  • Joanne Lee 2013
  • Dayle Keown 2012 - best summer studentship report award

Past Lab Members (Otago)

  • Clare Burn 2012-2014 (Fulbright Science and Innovation Graduate Award recipient 2014)

Past PhD students and where they are now

Dr Kylie Quinn (current RMIT, Melbourne, Australia)

Dr Lisa Connor (currently Senior Lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington, NZ)

Dr Lindsay Ancelet (currently Therapeutic Group Manager, PHARMAC, NZ) 

Dr Kelly Prendergast (currently Project Officer, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, Australia)

Dr Pia Steigler (currently Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Capetown, South Africa)