Melioidosis

B. pseudomallei is a bacterial pathogen found in soil and groundwater in parts of southeast Asia and northern Australia.

It causes melioidosis, which manifests as an acute and chronic disease ranging from skin infections and pain to pneumonia.

We are identifying therapeutic targets to prevent and control melioidosis using novel targets and a number of environmental and clinical isolates of B. pseudomallei.

The Institute has undertaken major contract research for the US Department of Homeland Security and the Australian Department of Defence seeking to develop ways to mitigate this select agent.

Food poisoning

Campylobacter (C. Jejuni) is one of the most common causes of bacterial gastroenteritis worldwide and a major cause of diarrhoea in travellers and military troops deployed abroad.

In rare cases, C. jejuni infection has been linked to the development of the autoimmune, neurological disease, Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

The organism is ubiquitous in the environment and commonly present in poultry and cattle.

Increasingly, antibiotic-resistant strains of C. jejuni are being found and there is no vaccine available. Our work includes strategies to reduce the incidence of C. jejuni in food sources and development of a unique human vaccine candidate.

Dengue

Dengue is a mosquito-borne virus that causes febrile illness and in some cases severe dengue which is characterised by haemorrhaging (bleeding) and shock.

Dengue is rapidly emerging as a virus able to cause pandemics in tropical and subtropical regions.

Over 40% of the world’s population is at risk and the WHO estimates 50-100 million infections in over 100 endemic countries including Australia and mainland US. It is the leading cause of hospitalisation and death of children and adults in some Asian and Latin American countries.

The mechanism of severe dengue is poorly understood and there are no specific drugs or vaccines to treat and prevent it.

Infuenza

Influenza

Influenza has a significant impact on human health. Annual epidemics exact a high toll in morbidity and mortality with an estimated three to five million cases of severe illness and up to half-a-million deaths worldwide each year.

Large pandemics have claimed millions of lives throughout history. The threat of a modern global pandemic of a highly pathogenic influenza virus has the potential to kill millions more and cripple global economies.

Whilst seasonal vaccines are available, the high variability of influenza strains means that a broadly efficacious vaccine remains elusive.

There are currently two influenza-specific drugs available globally, Relenza® and Tamiflu®. However the emergence of new and Tamiflu® resistant strains of influenza continues to pose a serious threat. The spread of Tamiflu®-resistant influenza has the potential to limit frontline treatment to Relenza® alone.

Parainfluenza

Parainfluenza viruses are also important human respiratory pathogens that clinically manifest as croup, bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

In developing nations, parainfluenza infections are responsible for up to 10% of acute respiratory infection-related deaths in children. In developed nations, they are a significant cause of distressing illness in children and represent a significant threat to people with weak immune systems such as those receiving bone marrow and organ transplants.

There are no vaccines or specific drugs available to combat parainfluenza infection. New detailed information is emerging regarding the sugar molecules (glycans) that are critical to influenza and parainfluenza infections.

It was the study of glycan interactions between the influenza virus and the cells that line our airways in the 1990s that led to the discovery of Relenza® by Professor Mark von Itzstein. Using further advanced rational drug design technologies and processes we are developing a suite of new agents that inhibit influenza and parainfluenza infection.

Malaria

There are approximately 3.2 billion people currently living in malaria endemic areas worldwide. In 2015 there were approximately 214 million cases of malaria and 438,000 deaths, mostly children.

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.

Developed at the Institute for Glycomics, Professor Michael Good AO and his team, PlasProtecT® is a novel, malaria vaccine candidate. PlasProtecT®, consists of whole malaria parasites that are grown in the laboratory under strictly controlled conditions.

We then treat those parasites so that they can no longer replicate or cause infection. When we administer these attenuated parasites, an immune response is raised without causing disease. The immune system is then primed to fight malaria parasites that may enter the body in the future before infection can take hold.

Because PlasProtecT® uses whole malaria parasites, it includes conserved regions between different strains and species. This overcomes the limitations of sub-unit vaccine approaches and we have already shown broad-spectrum protection in animal studies. We are now ready to trial PlasProtecT® in humans. Efforts are now underway to progress this vaccine through clinical trials.

We have also developed a unique malaria challenge model that enables us to first test the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in healthy individuals in Australia prior to commencing large-scale trials in endemic countries through strategic partnerships in Africa and South-East Asia.

Middle ear infection

Otitis media ( OM ), or middle ear infection, is a highly prevalent pediatric disease worldwide and the primary reason why children make physician’s office and emergency room visits and undergo surgery requiring general anesthesia.

It is often caused by Haemophilus influenzae a common bacterial infection.

Hearing loss is the most common complication of OM , which leads to behavioural, educational and language development delays.

Whilst there is a well-known and effective childhood vaccine against H. influenzae type b (the HIB conjugate vaccine), it does not protect against Non-typeable H. influenzae infection.

There is a pressing need to develop better methods to manage OM . We are using our deep understanding of this pathogen to develop a vaccine to prevent NTHi -induced middle ear and other infections.

Respiratory syncytial virus

Respiratory syncytial virus is the most common cause of respiratory and breathing infections in children. It causes infantile bronchiolitis and can cause severe disease in the elderly, especially in patients with chronic respiratory or cardiac conditions.

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
  • more breathing issues/problems in children with asthma.

These symptoms generally last between eight and 15 days. RSV is a common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under one year old.

Children with RSV are infectious immediately before the symptoms appear.

Most children aged under two years will have been infected by RSV . Re-infections usually occur throughout life.

There is currently no vaccine available and the moderately active but expensive therapeutic, Palivizumab (Synagis; made by MedImmune), is only given in extreme cases. No other specific anti- RSV drugs are available.

Rheumatic heart disease

Group A Streptococcus (Streptococcus pyogenes, GAS ) is a common bacterial pathogen. It causes infections of varying severity, ranging from uncomplicated self-limited infections such as pharyngitis to severe invasive disease such as sepsis and deadly post-infectious pathologies including rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

GAS kills more than half-a million people annually worldwide. Professor Michael Good AO and his team has developed a novel vaccine candidate to prevent GAS infection.

Pre-clinical trials of our vaccine candidate, J8-DT, have shown that it is able to protect lab animals from GAS and we have undertaken a first-in-man clinical trial of an initial J8-DT formulation. More recently we have developed and patented an improved formulation that is demonstrating outstanding efficacy in preclinical evaluation and we are anticipating excellent results from a Phase 1 human clinical trial.

Ross River fever

Ross River virus (sometimes called epidemic polyarthritis) 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. In northern and central Queensland, cases of Ross River virus occur throughout the year, but most cases occur between February and May. Everybody who becomes infected with Ross River virus will recover, however, the time taken to recover fully is prolonged in some people.

There is no specific drug treatment for Ross River virus infection. Treatment involves managing the symptoms that develop. Your doctor will advise on treatment for joint and muscle pains. A combination of plenty of rest and gentle exercise are important to keep joints moving and to prevent overtiredness, but medication may sometimes be necessary.

Zika

Originally identified as a human pathogen in the 1950s, Zika was thought to be a relatively rare cause of mild disease. New information is now rapidly emerging about the potential role of Zika in neurological disease, particularly as a cause of devastating microcephaly in children of women infected by Zika during pregnancy.

The World Health Organization has declared a global emergency. There are no specific drugs or vaccines available and there is an urgent need to learn more about this virus. Our Institute has an established Zika virus research program and we are applying our understanding of the related Dengue virus to develop new ways to treat and prevent Zika.

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