Infectious diseases pose some of the world’s biggest health challenges

The programs within this research area encompass bacterial, viral, parasitic and fungal infectious diseases, with an interest on diseases of relevance to public health in tropical environments.

Infectious disease continue to be some of the world's most significant health challenges. There is a need for new approaches to combat the emergence of antibiotic-resistance and the lack of effective vaccines for some of our most significant viral and bacterial pathogens.


Mark von Itzstein

Bacterial infections

The Institute's research into the role of carbohydrates in diseases caused by bacteria represents new and exciting opportunities for the discovery of next generation antibiotics and vaccines. Many of the bacteria that cause some of the world's most devastating diseases are rapidly developing resistance to antibiotics. The re-emergence of diseases such as multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and 'golden staph' is becoming dire as these life-threatening bacteria find their way into the general community. These disturbing developments require new strategies to combat these disease-causing bacteria to be pursued with high priority. The Institute's research program is working towards the design and synthesis of chemicals that will be the next generation antibiotics and vaccines to combat bacterial diseases.

Viral infections

Diseases caused by viruses have been a plague on humanity for time immemorial. Unfortunately drugs that combat viruses are extremely limited in number and are not broad spectrum. The emergence of new viruses or known viruses that are very aggressive and cause significant disease and mortality in man (e.g. SARS, H5N1 bird flu) has heightened the need for new strategies to treat these virus-caused diseases. Examples of viruses that utilise carbohydrates include Influenza virus, the virus behind 'Flu'; parainfluenza, responsible for 'Croup' in children, Rotavirus, which produces severe diarrhoea in children; and Dengue virus, a chronic illness of the sub-tropical and tropical continents. The Institute's research into these viruses, seeks to understand how these carbohydrates are utilised in viral infections so that scientists may identify targets for the development of new drugs that will treat and cure these diseases.

Parasitic infections

Parasitic infections such as malaria, Chagas disease, African sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis and schistosomiasis, still present as important public health challenges in tropical environments, with devastating socio-economic consequences in poor countries. It is now becoming clear that some of these parasites rely on carbohydrate-binding proteins in the host for attachment and invasion of human host cells. For example, sialic acid (a carbohydrate) is implicated in the infection cycle of the Plasmodium species (which cause malaria) and Trypanosome species (which cause sleeping sickness and Chagas disease). The Institute's is undertaking research to better understand the interactions between carbohydrates such as sialic acid and the carbohydrate-binding proteins, with a focus on malaria and trypanosomiasis. Such research will yield useful information for the design of diagnostic assays, vaccines and drugs for these diseases.

Fungal infections

Aspergillus fumigatus is the most prevalent airborne fungal pathogen in developed countries, and in immuno-compromised patients causes the fatal disease, invasive aspergillosis.It is now becoming clear that binding of Aspergillus fumigatus spores to the lung epithelial (the first step in the infection process) may be mediated through the carbohydrate sialic acid. The Institute is undertaking research to better understand the interactions mediated through sialic acid that facilitates Aspergillus fumigatus spore binding to the lung epithelial. Such research will yield useful information regarding the role of sialic acids in fungal biology as well as for the design of novel anti-fungal drugs.

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