New WSU researcher focuses on obesity, autism, disease

By Lori Maricle, College of Pharmacy

Roullet-webSPOKANE, Wash. – A researcher whose work includes obesity, autism and rare disease studies is a new clinical professor in the experimental and systems pharmacology (ESP) section at the Washington State University College of Pharmacy.

Jean-Baptiste Roullet will also teach first- and second-year students in the doctor of pharmacy program.

He 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 a very talented and experienced clinical researcher, with many years of managing and overseeing (human) clinical trials in a number of diverse metabolic disorders,” said Mike Gibson, chair of ESP.

Rare diseases shed light on all

With Gibson’s team, Roullet said he intends to “contribute to consolidating WSU’s position as a major stakeholder in rare disease research. Studying rare diseases – something very specific – allows us to understand more common diseases.”

An example is Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome – a genetic disorder that prevents the body from making cholesterol.

“The cholesterol synthesis pathway is a central metabolic pathway that guides the function of all cells in humans,” Roullet said. “If it doesn’t work, then not much else does. Once you understand that, then you can expand to other diseases.”

Cholesterol and obesity

He also is 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,” he said, “and eventually the research could support Ph.D. students or postdoctoral researchers.”

Partnering to investigate autism, more

His 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 his former lab at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) in Portland, Ore.

By partnering with one or more of the Spokane hospitals, he is hoping to develop relationships within the local health care system to build the clinical connections needed to bring these types of rare disease studies to the Spokane area.

Research and pharmacy

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.

He practiced for many years as a pharmacist-clinical chemist at Necker-Enfants Malades hospital, one of the major university hospitals in Paris.

“I got drawn into research early, and have been conducting research for almost my entire career,” he said. “But I was trained originally as a pharmacist, so I am very glad to be coming back into a pharmacy environment.”

He came to the U.S. in 1985 as a visiting professor at OHSU and was offered a position there in 1989.


Lori Maricle, WSU College of Pharmacy communications, 509-368-6679,