IHBI’s Infectious Disease Program now at QIMR Berghofer!!

Posted by CK Tan on 20 October 2016 | Comments

20161019 175627The infectious disease program is a collection of world-class microbiologists and immunologists at the Institute of Health & Biomedical Innovation (IHBI), QUT. Recently we relocated our research labs to QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (QIMR-B) at Herston, right next door to many of our clinical collaborators at Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. And yes we are still QUT, but get all the benefits of the fantastic facilities at QIMR-B. I thought I would use this opportunity to introduce the research groups within our program.

We have got microbiology covered from the time of conception to adulthood and everything in between. As you walk through our new laboratories we first come to the Arbovirology groups, led by Dr Francesca Frentiu and Prof. John Aaskov. Francesca’s research group focus the evolution and mosquito host relationships of major human arboviruses, such dengue, Chikungunya and Zika and a particular focus of the lab is understanding the evolutionary consequences on the virus of the novel biocontrol Wolbachia. John’s group focus on the nature of populations of arboviruses in individual hosts, how this evolves over time and whether the diversity of these populations can be exploited to develop more effective disease control and immunisation programs.

Next in line is the Chlamydia research group led by Prof. Ken Beagley, who focus on the role that Chlamydia infection plays in causing male and female factor infertility, particularly the effects of infection on ovarian and testicular function, in a bid to better understand the requirements of an efficacious vaccine. They also are heavily involved in the development of a chlamydial vaccine for Australia’s treasured Koala populations.

We next come to Dr Makrina Totsika’s group who are at the forefront of research in developing new therapies to fight multi-drug resistant bacteria. Through a unique approach of disarming rather than killing superbugs, Makrina’s group are now developing a new class of ‘evolution-proof’ drugs that can treat antibiotic-resistant infections. Keeping in theme with antimicrobial resistance, we then have Dr Johanna Kenyon’s group, who investigate the genetics and synthesis of the capsular polysaccharides of Acinetobacter baumannii, an important nosocomial pathogen that is often resistant to almost all therapeutically suitable antibiotics. A. baumannii produces more than 100 different types of capsule, and examination of the chemical structures and genetic regions has led to the exciting discovery of new sugars and proteins that may be involved in pathogenesis.

20161019 175537We have a number of research teams that focus on the microbes that can affect pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes. This includes A/Prof. Christine Knox, whose primary research focus has been on the effects of Ureaplasma on adverse pregnancy outcomes, with a particular focus on the pathologies of women infected with Ureaplasma spp. and its role in neonatal lung diseases when exposed in utero. She is also interested in the infant oral microbiome, and how these oral bacterial communities are regulated by the production of antimicrobial agents during breastfeeding. Dr Elise Pelzer and her group have a keen interest in the symbiotic interactions of the placental microbiome at the maternal-fetal interface. Microbial exposure of the fetus in utero has the potential to alter the health trajectory of the neonate during the first years of life. Then there’s myself, Dr Alison Carey, who investigates maternal Group B Streptococcus and its ability to colonise the female reproductive tract during pregnancy, and I work closely with Ken Beagley on chlamydial pathogenesis in the female reproductive tract. I also have a keen interest in the streptococcal species involved in bovine mastitis and the development of a vaccine to prevent this infection.

The final IHBI@QIMR-B group is led by A/Prof. Flavia Huygens. The research interests of Flavia and her group are the ‘Omics’ of the wound microbiome as part of the CRC for Wound Management and Innovation, using microbial systems biology to identify diagnostic, therapeutic and vaccine targets and the development of DNA-diagnostic assay for identification and characterisation of pathogens in clinical samples.

Of course, we cannot forget A/Prof. Kirsten Spann, who is located at the Centre for Child Health Research and Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. Her group are researching several aspects of respiratory virology including the viral pathogenesis in infant bronchiolitis, the role of viruses in chronic and acute ear disease, and the role of viruses in exacerbating asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Kirsten and her groups’ main aim is to identify both viral and host response targets for the development of treatments to these serious infections.

20161019 175750As you can see, we are quite a diverse group of microbiologists and immunologists that are now located next to two of the major Brisbane hospitals. Yes, we lucked out and all have new research labs, with some new equipment purchased through the generosity of The Ian Potter Foundation, and we get great views of Brisbane! If any of our projects catch you eye and you are keen to collaborate please feel free to contacts us (https://www.qut.edu.au/institute-of-health-and-biomedical-innovation/research/research-areas/infectious-diseases).

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