Jean-Baptiste Roullet, Ph.D., is a new clinical professor in the experimental and systems pharmacology (ESP) section at the WSU College of Pharmacy. Roullet studies autism and rare diseases caused by impaired cholesterol metabolism.  He joins WSU from Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), and will continue his research at the College of Pharmacy and teach first and second-year student pharmacists in the Doctor of Pharmacy program.

“The College of Pharmacy is very fortunate to have recruited Dr. Roullet,” said Mike Gibson, chair of ESP.  “He is a very talented and experienced clinical researcher, with many years of managing and overseeing clinical trials in a number of diverse metabolic disorders.  The college, and experimental and systems pharmacology, is very lucky to have him join us as we continue to grow.”

Roullet has extensive experience as a clinical researcher (studies that involve human subjects), and contributed to three U.S. patents in the health sciences. His research expertise is in lipid metabolism, cardiovascular diseases, blood pressure regulation, and rare diseases.

He is an investigator with the Sterol and Isoprenoid Research (STAIR) Consortium. STAIR is one of 21 consortia in the Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network, which is an initiative funded by the National Institutes of Health (https://www.rarediseasesnetwork.org/index.htm). The consortium includes clinicians and scientists who have teamed up from nine academic institutions across the U.S. and internationally to discover causes and formulate treatments for diseases like the Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome (SLOS).

“SLOS is a genetic disorder that prevents a person’s body from making cholesterol,” said Roullet. “The cholesterol synthesis pathway is a central metabolic pathway that guides the function of all cells in humans. If it doesn’t work, then not much else does. Once you understand that, then you can expand to other diseases. Studying rare diseases—something very specific—allows us to understand more common diseases.”

Now that he has joined the ESP team at WSU, Roullet will continue to pursue his research on SLOS and other genetic disorders of the sterol and isoprenoid pathway.

“Joining experimental and systems pharmacology and Dr. Gibson’s team, who studies other rare diseases, will contribute to consolidating WSU’s position as a major stakeholder in rare disease research,” Roullet said.

Roullet is also interested in studying the role of the cholesterol pathway in the regulation of fat cell formation from adipose-tissue-derived stem cells, a process called adipogenesis.

“We have evidence that the cholesterol pathway is implicated in this process” said Roullet. “Down the road, this research may lead to the identification of novel compounds that slow down the formation of fat cells and could be used to fight obesity. Finding and securing funding for this research is a priority, and eventually the research could support Ph.D. students or postdoctoral researchers.”

Roullet’s research also focuses on autism. His team has been using stem cells made from skin cells isolated from individuals with autism to study autistic neurons and the autistic brain. This research will continue in collaboration with Roullet’s partners at OHSU in Portland. By partnering with one or more of the local hospitals, Roullet is hoping to develop relationships within the health care system here in Spokane in order to build the clinical connections needed to bring these types of rare disease studies to the Spokane area.

Roullet grew up and was trained in France. He received his pharmacy degree from Paris V University, holds professional certifications in laboratory medicine (immunology, hematology, bacteriology, virology, and parasitology) and has two doctoral degrees in biochemistry.

Roullet practiced for many years as a pharmacist-clinical chemist at Necker-Enfants Malades hospital, one of the major university hospitals in Paris. “But I got drawn into research early, and have been conducting research for almost my entire career,” he said.

Roullet came to the U.S. in 1985 on a visiting professor position at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, Oregon. After a short stay back in France, he was offered a faculty position in the Department of Medicine and returned to OHSU in 1989. In 2006 he joined the Division of Metabolism in the Department of Pediatrics at OHSU and started his research on rare diseases and autism. He now lives in Spokane and has one daughter who lives in Portland, Oregon.

Roullet’s appointment at the WSU College of Pharmacy began this March. “I was trained originally as a pharmacist, so I am very glad to be coming back into a pharmacy environment,” said Roullet.

[May 11, 2015] Lori J. Maricle