Our areas of research

STREPTOCOCCUS A AND RHEUMATIC HEART DISEASE

Group A Streptococcus (Strep A) is a common bacterial pathogen. Strep A can cause many different infections, which range from minor illnesses like strep throat to very serious and potentially deadly diseases like sepsis, acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD).

Globally, the burden from Strep A infections is substantial. The World Health Organization estimates:

  • 470,000 new cases of acute rheumatic fever occur each year
  • 282,000 new cases of rheumatic heart disease occur each year
  • 15.6 million persons are living with rheumatic heart disease
  • Over 230,000 deaths due to rheumatic heart disease each year

The Institute is fighting Group A Streptococcus infection through both novel therapeutic and novel vaccine approaches.
Our research teams focused on fighting Group A Streptococcus include: Professor Michael Good AO.

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ROSS RIVER VIRUS

Ross River virus is a disease caused by a virus which is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Ross River virus disease occurs widely in Australia. Everybody who becomes infected with Ross River virus will recover, however, the time taken to recover fully is prolonged in some people.

Ross River virus causes inflammation and pain in multiple joints (epidemic polyarthritis). The symptoms may include fever with joint pain and swelling which may then be followed in one to ten days by a raised red rash affecting mainly the trunk and limbs. The rash usually lasts for one to ten days and may or may not be accompanied by a fever.

The Institute is fighting the inflammation associated with Ross River virus through novel therapeutic approaches.

Our research teams focused on fighting Ross River virus include: Dr Lara Herrero

TUBERCULOSIS

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that most often affect the lungs. Over 95% of cases and deaths are in developing countries. People who are infected with HIV are 20 to 30 times more likely to develop active TB.

When a person develops active TB disease, the symptoms (such as cough, fever, night sweats, or weight loss) may be mild for many months. This can lead to delays in seeking care, and results in transmission of the bacteria to others. Without proper treatment, 45% of HIV-negative people with TB on average and nearly all HIV-positive people with TB will die.

In 2017, 10 million people fell ill with TB and 1.6 million died from the disease. One million children (0–14 years of age) fell ill with TB, and 230,000 children (including children with HIV associated TB) died from the disease. (Source: World Health Organisation).

Multidrug-resistant TB remains a public health crisis and a health security threat. The Institute is fighting TB through novel therapeutic approaches. Our research teams focused on TB include: Dr Todd Houston

HUMAN IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS (HIV)

HIV targets the immune system and weakens people's defence systems against infections and some types of cancer. As the virus destroys and impairs the function of immune cells, infected individuals gradually become immunodeficient.

HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 35 million lives so far. In 2017, 940,000 people died from HIV-related causes globally. There were approximately 36.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2017 with 1.8 million people becoming newly infected in 2017 globally. It is estimated that currently only 75% of people with HIV know that they have the disease. (Source: World Health Organisation).

The most advanced stage of HIV infection is Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which can take from 2 to 15 years to develop depending on the individual. AIDS is defined by the development of certain cancers, infections, or other severe clinical manifestations.

The Institute is fighting HIV through novel therapeutic and vaccine approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting HIV include: Professor Johnson Mak and Professor Michael Jennings.

INFLUENZA

Influenza is caused by a virus that attacks mainly the upper respiratory tract – the nose, throat and bronchi and rarely also the lungs. The infection usually lasts for about a week. It is characterized by sudden onset of high fever, myalgia, headache and severe malaise, non-productive cough, sore throat, and rhinitis. Most people recover within one to two weeks without requiring any medical treatment.

In the very young, the elderly and people suffering from medical conditions such as lung diseases, diabetes, cancer, kidney or heart problems, influenza poses a serious risk. In these people, the infection may lead to severe complications of underlying diseases, pneumonia and death.

Influenza rapidly spreads around the world in seasonal epidemics and imposes a considerable economic burden in the form of hospital and other health care costs and lost productivity. Hospitalisation and deaths mainly occur in high-risk groups (elderly, chronically ill). Although difficult to assess, these annual epidemics are thought to result in between three and five million cases of severe illness and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths every year around the world.

The Institute is fighting influenza virus infection through novel therapeutic approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting influenza include: Professor Mark von Itzstein AO.

PARAINFLUENZA

Human parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs) commonly cause upper and lower respiratory illnesses in infants, young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, but anyone can get infected. After you get infected, it takes about 2 to 7 days before you develop symptoms.
Symptoms of upper respiratory illness may include fever, runny nose and a cough.

Symptoms of severe lower respiratory illness may include:

  • croup - infection of the vocal cords (larynx), windpipe (trachea) and bronchial tubes (bronchi)
  • bronchitis - infection of the main air passages that connect the windpipe to the lungs
  • bronchiolitis - infection in the smallest air passages in the lungs
  • pneumonia - an infection of the lungs

In developing nations, parainfluenza infections are responsible for up to 10% of acute respiratory infection-related deaths in children. Currently, there are no vaccines or specific drugs available to combat parainfluenza infection.

The Institute is fighting parainfluenza virus infection through novel therapeutic approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting parainfluenza include: Professor Mark von Itzstein AO.

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RESPIRATORY SYNCYTIAL VIRUS (RSV)

RSV is a virus that causes respiratory infections. Illness is common in children under 2 years of age. In this age group RSV can cause bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

RSV in children is normally associated with moderate to severe cold-like symptoms and will usually cause some or all of the following symptoms: runny nose, coughing, wheezing, fever, breathing issues and problems in children with asthma.

Globally, RSV is responsible for over 30 million new acute lower respiratory infection episodes in children under five, resulting in more than 3.4 million hospital admissions associated with severe RSV disease each year. Over 90% of all RSV-associated deaths are estimated to occur in low and middle-income countries. (Source: World Health Organisation).

Currently, no licensed vaccine exists for RSV and the moderately active but expensive therapeutic, Palivizumab, is only given in extreme cases. No other specific anti-RSV drugs are available.

The Institute is fighting RSV infection through novel therapeutic approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting RSV include: Professor Mark von Itzstein AO.

MALARIA

Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite. The parasite is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. A malaria infection is generally characterized by fever, chills, headaches, nausea and vomiting, muscle pain and fatigue. It can be fatal if left untreated.

In 2017, an estimated 219 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide, with an estimated 435,000 deaths from malaria globally. Children aged under 5 years are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria. In 2017, they accounted for 61% (266,000) of all malaria deaths. (Source: World Health Organisation).

Vaccination is the key to shifting the fight against malaria from sustained control to eradication. Despite global efforts there is no effective malaria vaccine available.

The Institute is fighting malaria through novel vaccine approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting malaria include: Professor Michael Good AO.

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MIDDLE EAR INFECTIONS

Middle ear infection (called otitis media) is an infection behind the eardrum. Ear infections are very common and are usually painful. It is a highly prevalent paediatric disease worldwide and the primary reason why children make physician’s office and emergency room visits and undergo surgery requiring general anaesthesia.

Middle ear infections are usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection and often happen during or after a child has a cold. Infection can cause earache, ear discharge and fever, and recurrent otitis media can lead to hearing impairment.

The bacterial pathogens most often implicated are Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Moraxella catarrhalis. Approximately one-third of episodes of otitis media are caused by nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae and this bacterium is the most common cause of recurrent otitis media. There is no vaccine available to prevent infection from this bacterium and antibiotic resistance is an increasing problem.

There is a pressing need to develop better methods to manage middle ear infections. The Institute is fighting midde ear infection through novel vaccine approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting middle ear infection include: Professor Michael Jennings, Associate Professor Kate Seib, Dr Darren Grice, Dr Milton Kiefel, Dr Ian Peak.

HAND, FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE (HFMD)

HFMD is a common infectious disease that occurs most often in children but can also occur in adolescents and occasionally in adults. In most cases, the disease is mild and self-limiting, with common symptoms including fever, painful sores in the mouth, and a rash with blisters on hands, feet and buttocks. However, more severe symptoms such as meningitis, encephalitis and polio-like paralysis may occur.

HFMD is caused primarily by members of the Enterovirus genus species such as enterovirus 71 (EV71). HFMD has a significant impact on the community, with EV71 causing sporadic outbreaks in developed and developing nations. In China alone, there were some 9 million cases of HMFD reported between 2008 and 2013, with nearly 2500 confirmed deaths. Between 1 and 31 July 2018, a total of 377,629 cases of HFMD and four deaths were reported in China.

There are currently no drugs on the market to treat HFMD caused by EV71.

The Institute is fighting HFMD infection through novel therapeutic approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting HFMD include: Professor Mark von Itzstein AO.

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DENGUE

Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection causing a severe flu-like illness and, sometimes causing a potentially lethal complication called severe dengue. Severe dengue today affects Asian and Latin American countries and has become a leading cause of hospitalisation and death among children and adults in these regions.

Dengue is rapidly emerging as a virus able to cause pandemics in tropical and subtropical regions. The incidence of dengue has increased 30-fold over the last 50 years. Up to 50-100 million infections are now estimated to occur annually in over 100 endemic countries, putting almost half of the world’s population at risk. (Source: World Health Organisation).

The mechanism of severe dengue is poorly understood and there is currently no specific treatment for the disease.

The Institute is fighting dengue infection through novel therapeutic approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting dengue include: Professor Mark von Itzstein AO, Dr Lara Herrero.

GASTROENTERITIS/FOOD POISONING

Campylobacter (C. Jejuni) bacterial infections are considered to be the most common bacterial cause of gastroenteritis (gastro) in the world. Infection occurs mainly following consumption of contaminated foodstuffs, particularly undercooked poultry or contaminated water.

The organism is ubiquitous in the environment and commonly present in birds and animals as normal intestinal flora.

The most common symptoms of campylobacter infection include watery or bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms usually start 2–5 days after infection, and last for 3–14 days. Campylobacter infections are range from mild to bloody dysentery requiring hospitalisation, and can be fatal among very young children, the elderly, and immunosuppressed individuals.

Increasingly, antibiotic-resistant strains of C. jejuni are being found and there is no vaccine available. The Institute is fighting gastroenteritis through novel therapeutic and vaccine approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting gastroenteritis include: Professor Victoria Korolik, Professor Michael Jennings.

GONORRHOEA

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae that remains a major public health concern. It represents 78 million of the estimated 357 million new cases of STIs which occur globally every year. (Source: World Health Organisation).

This disease affects both men and women, however if left untreated, gonorrhoea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women, which can cause infertility.

Gonorrhoea is treated with antibiotics, although some strains of the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae are now resistant to all antibiotics typically used to treat gonorrhoea. We urgently need new ways to treat and prevent gonorrhoea, and our work currently underway provides a new opportunity to progress gonococcal vaccine development.

The Institute is fighting gonorrhoea infection through novel therapeutic and vaccine approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting gonorrhoea include: Associate Professor Kate Seib, Professor Michael Jennings, Professor Yaoqi Zhou.

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MENINGITIS

Meningitis is a devastating disease and remains a major public health challenge. Meningitis can be caused by many different pathogens including viruses and fungi but the highest global burden is seen with bacterial meningitis. Together with sepsis, meningitis is estimated to cause more deaths in children under 5 years of age than malaria.

Meningococcal meningitis, caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, is of particular importance due to its potential to cause large epidemics.

Meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial form of meningitis, is a serious infection of the thin lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It can cause severe brain damage and is fatal in 50% of cases if untreated.

The Institute is fighting meningitis infection through novel vaccine approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting meningitis include: Associate Professor Kate Seib, Professor Michael Jennings.

MELIOIDOSIS

Melioidosis is an infectious disease caused by the environmental bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei (B. pseudomallei). B. pseudomallei is a bacterial pathogen found in soil and groundwater in parts of southeast Asia and northern Australia.

The majority of cases are associated with the wet season and exposure to surface water and mud, implying that acute infection most commonly occurs soon after exposure. The incubation period of acute disease is between 1 and 21 days. However, latent infections with presentation delayed for months or years have also been described. Two outbreaks in the endemic region of Australia have been attributed to contamination of the community water supply with B. pseudomallei.

There is a spectrum of presentations from acute sepsis to more chronic disease; infection may involve any organ but primarily involves the lungs and intra-abdominal organs. Risk factors for infection include diabetes, hazardous alcohol intake and chronic renal disease.

The Institute is fighting melioidosis through novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting melioidosis include: Dr Michael Batzloff.

CHIKUNGUNYA

Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne viral disease first described during an outbreak in southern Tanzania in 1952. It is an RNA virus that belongs to the alphavirus genus of the family Togaviridae. The name “chikungunya” derives from a word in the Kimakonde language, meaning “to become contorted”, and describes the stooped appearance of sufferers with joint pain (arthralgia).

Chikungunya is transmitted to humans by the bites of infected female mosquitoes. The disease is characterised by an abrupt onset of fever frequently accompanied by joint pain. Other common signs and symptoms include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. The joint pain is often very debilitating, but usually lasts for a few days or may be prolonged to weeks. Hence the virus can cause acute, subacute or chronic disease.

Most patients recover fully, but in some cases joint pain may persist for several months, or even years. Occasional cases of eye, neurological and heart complications have been reported, as well as gastrointestinal complaints.

There is no specific antiviral drug treatment for chikungunya at this time. Treatment is directed primarily at relieving the symptoms, including the joint pain using anti-pyretics, optimal analgesics and fluids. There is no commercial chikungunya vaccine available either.

The Institute is fighting chikungunya infection through novel therapeutic approaches. Our research teams focused on fighting chikungunya include: Dr Lara Herrero.

BABESIOSIS

Babesiosis is an infection of red blood cells caused by the babesia parasite. It is usually spread by the bite of certain types of ticks. It was first detected in cattle but is now a well-known cause of malaria-like illness in both humans and animals.

Babesia can be a severe, life-threatening disease, particularly in people who are elderly or have existing health issues, such as weakened immune systems.

The Institute is fighting babesiosis infection through novel therapeutic approaches.

Our research teams focused on fighting babesiosos include: Professor Michael Good AO.

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