Developing new therapies for emerging and existing viruses

The Emerging Viruses, Inflammation and Therapeutics (EVIT) group is helping find new ways to treat debilitating diseases caused by mosquito-borne viruses such as chikungunya, Zika and dengue viruses, and by respiratory viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus. Our team of world-class virologists are leading in-depth investigations into viral diseases, their pathogenesis, treatment and prevention as well as virus-host interactions.

Key research areas

Chikungunya virus

Dengue fever

Respiratory viruses

Ross River virus

Zika virus

Our mission

Our goal is to become the leading Australian emerging arbovirus research entity, with a strong focus on developing vaccines and drugs for effective treatment.

Lead

Professor Suresh Mahalingam

Professor Suresh Mahalingam is a leading Australian virologist and international leader in viral inflammatory disease. His research has led to several major advances in our understanding of viral inflammatory disease and he has been active in translating these achievements. As a result of high-level research success, he has received numerous awards and fellowships. His research interests include viral Immunology, virus pathogenesis, inflammation, mosquito-borne viruses, respiratory viruses, drug repurposing to treat viral diseases, vaccine development and animal models of viral disease.

Full members

Professor Mark Forwood

Professor Forwood leads a major research program in bone biology. He collaborates with other members of the group to identify key disease pathways in musculoskeletal disease following virus infection, particularly on mechanisms of inflammation induced by infected bone cells such as osteoblasts and osteoclasts.

Associate Professor Jenny Ekberg

Dr Jenny Ekberg’s research focuses on how glial cells respond to injury and infection. Dr Ekberg has a number of established collaborations with group members to investigate disease mechanisms during virus infection of the CNS, with particular focus on CNS invasion paths via peripheral nerves.

Dr John Gerrard

Dr Gerrard is Director of Infectious Diseases at GCUH. Dr Gerrard’s strong interest in clinical aspects of viral, bacterial and nematode infections will lead to collaborations with other researchers in the group, working on basic mechanisms of these diseases. These collaborations will facilitate the rapid translation of basic findings to the clinic.

Professor Keith Grimwood

Professor Grimwood studies respiratory infections in young children. He will collaborate with other researchers in the group to understand the clinical importance of basic respiratory virus research conducted using tissue culture and animal models and to translate this work into clinical trials.

Dr Jacob Ijdo

Dr Jacob Ijdo is Director of Rheumatology at Gold Coast University Hospital. He will collaborate with other centre researchers on basic mechanisms of viral musculoskeletal disease. His access to patient samples allows the team to ‘bridge the gap’ between animal infection models and human disease.

Professor Hamish McCallum

Professor McCallum’s wildlife disease ecology expertise is a natural fit for projects underway in the group. This will lead to collaborations to understand ecological aspects of the spread of mosquito-borne and other zoonotic viruses that cause human disease and the importance of animal reservoirs. The role that climate and habitat change play in emergence of disease will be a key focus.

Professor Nigel McMillan

Professor McMillan is interested in infectious causes of cancer and novel ways to treat them. He will collaborate with other centre researchers to understand Hendra virus disease and RSV. He will also apply interferon-modulating nanoparticle technology to understand the role of key interferon pathways during arbovirus and respiratory infections.

Professor Ron Quinn

Professor Quinn has an international reputation in the field of drug discovery. He was integral to the establishment of Nature Bank, a unique natural product drug discovery library. He will collaborate with researchers within the group to use Nature Bank for the discovery of new dengue antivirals.

Professor Bernd Rehm

Professor Rehm is developing platform technologies for functional biomaterials for medical applications such as vaccines, immunodiagnostics and immunotherapies. He is collaborating with other members of the research group to develop vaccines against chikungunya virus and respiratory syncytial virus.

Dr Michael Rolph

Dr Rolph is a part-time Senior Research Fellow with an interest in viral immunology, particularly focusing on arboviruses and respiratory viruses. In addition to his basic research, Dr Rolph has made crucial contributions to the group’s translational work over the past several years.

Dr Adam Taylor

Dr Taylor is a virologist interested in understanding the mechanisms of viral disease. His research aims to identify molecular virus-host cell interactions that are essential for virus replication and viral-induced disease. He has identified novel therapeutics and vaccine candidates for viruses such as Zika and Chikungunya virus.

Dr Ali Zaid

Dr Zaid is a viral immunologist who focuses on immune responses to viral infections. He uses advanced microscopy techniques to visualise antiviral responses that lead to inflammation. His research background includes skin immunology, intravital imaging and mosquito-borne virus infections.

Research candidates and assistants

  • Mr Eranga Abeyratne (research assistant)
  • Dr Jayaram Bettadapura (postdoctoral fellow, casual part-time)
  • Mr Ujjwal Dua (Business and Innovation Manager)
  • Mr Joseph Freitas (research assistant)
  • Dr Xiang Liu (postdoctoral fellow)
  • Dr Yee Suan Poo
    • Ms Helen Mostafavi (PhD student)
    • Ms Shambhavi Rao (PhD student)
    • Ms Kothila Tharmarajah (PhD student)
    • Ms Chenying Yang (research assistant)

Research highlights

Mosquito-borne diseases

Watch the Virtual Keystone Symposia ePanel on mosquito-borne diseases with Professor Suresh Mahalingam.

Key research areas

Chikungunya virus

Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a mosquito-transmitted alphavirus that has emerged as a major global human pathogen over the last 10-15 years. It causes explosive epidemics of chronic musculoskeletal disease characterised by fever, severe joint pain, muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash. CHIKV has infected individuals in more than 60 countries around the globe, particularly in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific island nations. It is the extremely debilitating, chronic nature of the disease that contributes most significantly to overall burden—some cases can last years. There are no drugs or vaccines for CHIKV infection. Our research seeks to understand how CHIKV causes disease. We collaborate extensively with clinicians from regions with a heavy load of CHIKV infection, particularly in South America and Asia. We have developed and patented a novel CHIKV vaccine that is in the process of being commercialised, and we are also developing new anti-inflammatory drugs for treating CHIKV disease.

Dengue virus

Dengue virus (DENV) is a mosquito-transmitted flavivirus that is a major global cause of human disease. DENV is widespread in tropical regions worldwide, with half the world population at risk of DENV infection. The disease is typically characterised by high fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, vomiting and skin rash that resolves within 1-2 weeks. A small proportion of infections progress to severe forms such as dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome, both of which are often fatal. There are no specific drugs for treating dengue infection, and the recently approved vaccine has been disappointing, only providing protection for a minority of vaccinees. Our research program aims, 1) to re-purpose established anti-inflammatory drugs for treatment of dengue infections, and 2) to exploit the natural product library Nature Bank at GRIDD to identify new DENV antiviral drugs.

Respiratory viruses

We have a small but very active research program in respiratory viruses, particularly respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and human metapneumovirus (HMPV). Both viruses cause seasonal lower respiratory tract disease. Infections with these viruses are of particular medical significance in infants and young children. The disease ranges from asymptomatic to severe, including bronchiolitis and pneumonia. We are developing a novel vaccine for RSV infection and are studying links between RSV and HMPV infection and subsequent development of allergic asthma.

Ross River virus

Ross River virus (RRV) is a mosquito-transmitted alphavirus that causes Ross River fever, which is the most prevalent mosquito-transmitted disease in Australia (70% of all mosquito-borne disease notifications), with 4,000 cases per annum; it is also prevalent in a number of Pacific island nations. Major features of the disease include arthralgia, arthritis, rash and fever, and the disease frequently takes a chronic course lasting many months. There are no drugs or vaccines for RRV infection. Our research program aims to understand the mechanisms of disease in RRV infection using a variety of infection models. We also work extensively with clinicians to access patient samples. Based on our basic research, we are seeking to identify anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of RRV infection. One drug—pentosan polysulphate—identified using this research approach is currently in clinical trials funded by our commercial partner Paradigm Biopharmaceuticals.

Zika virus

Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted flavivirus. Infections are usually asymptomatic or cause mild disease including fever, rash, muscle and joint pain, malaise and headache, with symptoms typically lasting 2–7 days. In recent years Zika emerged as an important cause of human disease due to its association with neurological conditions such as microcephaly and Guillain–Barré syndrome. We have developed a new and highly effective vaccine candidate for Zika that has been licensed to a major international pharma for completion of pre-clinical testing and progression to clinical trials. We are also researching basic mechanisms of disease using a variety of cutting-edge model systems and human clinical samples.

Other emerging viruses

We are extending our basic and translational expertise in virology to other emerging viruses—not just human viruses, but also viruses of veterinary importance.

  • Bovine viral diarrhoea virus
  • Caprine arthritis encephalitis virus (CAEV)
  • Equine herpesvirus
  • Bluetongue virus
  • Hendra virus

Get in touch

Contact the Menzies Health Institute Queensland