Infectious diseases and immunology | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Infectious diseases and immunology

Allergy Immunobiology and Mite Group

Scabies is a contagious skin disease caused by the itch mite Sarcoptes scabiei. Scabies affects over 100 million individuals worldwide, primarily families and young children, but also presents as epidemics in institutional settings such as nursing homes and prisons. Scabies is also common to many other mammalian species and is a particular welfare concern for bare-nosed wombat populations in Southern Australia. Infestations are associated with secondary bacterial infection and associated downstream complications.

Our group focus is on improved understanding of inflammatory and immune responses and how they contribute to the progression of scabies. Research also involves characterising the ion-channel drug receptors in the scabies mite, development of new treatments and improved diagnostics.

Laboratory Heads:

Projects available

  • Genetic variability in ligand gated ion channels from Sarcoptes scabiei
  • Optimisation of PCR assays to detect drug resistance in scabies mites
  • Molecular characterisation of ligand gated ion channels from Sarcoptes scabiei
  • Understanding the development of crusted scabies in immunosuppressed individuals
  • Knowledge, attitudes and practices concerning scabies control in aged-care facilities

Bacterial Genetics and Disease Group (BGD)

The BGD group applies molecular, immunological epidemiological and biotechnological approaches to the study of microbiological diseases.

Laboratory Head: Dr David McMillan

Pathogenesis and Prevention of beta-hemolytic bacterial infections. Group A streptococcus is a bacterium that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. Diseases caused by this bacterium are particularly prevalent in Australian Indigenous populations. No vaccine is available to prevent infection with this organism. Research conducted by our group is aimed at developing novel vaccines to prevent infection, and increasing our understanding of the role that specific virulence factors play in the pathogenesis of this organism.

Bacterial infection of medical devices. Bacterial colonisation of medical devices is a leading cause of hospital acquired infection. The insertion of a catheter into a vein provides a portal by which bacteria can cross the skin and enter normally sterile body sites. Our current research in this area involves characterising bacteria present on medical devices, and investigating the changes in antiseptic and antibiotic properties of these organisms.

Projects available:

  • Development of a vaccine for prevention of group A streptococcal infection
  • Characterising how streptococci protect themselves from the human immune system
  • Genomic analysis of a group G streptococcal isolate associated with rheumatic fever
  • What is the biological role of the M-protein in group G streptococcus
  • Characterisation of antibiotic and antiseptic resistance in

Student who undertake research projects in my group can expect to learn one of more of the following techniques: protein expression and purification; DNA sequencing and analysis; ELISA, basic and molecular microbiological techniques; Western blotting; microscopy; the study of protein-protein interactions; and basic statistical analyses.

Molecular Engineering Research Group

We use molecular engineering techniques to develop next-generation molecular devices for diagnostics and therapeutics.

Laboratory Head: Dr Joanne Macdonald

We previously demonstrated a next-generation molecular device able to play tic-tac-toe interactively against a human opponent. We are now adapting this technology for autonomous and intelligent diagnostic and therapeutic devices. For example, we are building point-of-care devices similar to an at-home pregnancy test that provides a text diagnosis of viral infections, including Hendra and Ebola viruses.

Microbial pathogenesis

Theme Leader: Associate Professor Mohammad Katouli

Key research areas:

  • Molecular pathogenesis of E. coli translocation and sepsis

Translocation of E. coli across the gut epithelium can result in fatal sepsis in post-surgical patients. In vitro experiments have identified the existence of a novel pathotype of translocating E. coli (TEC) that employs an unknown mechanism for translocating across epithelial cells to the mesenteric lymph nodes and then to blood stream both in humans and animal models. We have sequenced the genome of four TEC strains and their comparison with other pathogenic E. coli has shown that these TEC strains carry a genomic island that encodes a Type 6 Secretion System that may contribute to adhesion of the bacteria to gut epithelial cells. The human TEC strain also carries the invasion gene ibeA, which is absent in other pathogenic E. coli strains and is our target to identify the mechanisms of E. coli translocation.

  • Pathogenesis of uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) in children and adults

This project investigates the pathogenesis of uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) by studying virulence factors that contribute to the survival and persistence of UPEC in the upper urinary tract. This project also investigated the potential of these strains to translocate from the urinary or GI tracts by testing their interaction with bladder (T-24), renal (A-498) and gut epithelial (Caco-2) cells. Genetic relatedness of UPEC from different sources will also be studied to understand the prevalence of specific pathogenic clones in Australia and elsewhere. These include genes encoding for invasion and antigen 43 as well as iron acquisition genes and factors that may be associated with renal scarring.

  • Microbial diversity profiling and detection of pathogens in surface waters.

16S rRNA microbial diversity profiling is an established area of applied research with increasing interest and uptake from water managers responsible for catchment management. This technique is now used to track the source of faecal and microbial contaminants in water. This project aims to create a fingerprint of key bacterial molecular markers in a water sample. The ultimate aim of the project is to develop an easy method to track the source of contaminants with a rapid turn-around, resulting in a rapid and reliable technique to managing water quality by unequivocally tracking the origin of faecal contamination. Confidently tracking the source of contamination in water improves the management and protection of public health risks in drinking and recreational water.

  • Gut mucosal associated Escherichia coli in patients with chronic inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer.

Certain strains of Escherichia coli associated with the mucosa of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract have been increasingly implicated in the pathogenesis of Crohn’s disease (CD),Ulcerative colitis (UC) and Colorectal cancer (CRC). Several pathogenic mechanisms have been attributed to these strains which include adhesion to and invasion of the gut mucosa, the presence of specific genes involved in their translocation and their survival in macrophages. This project aims to characterize E. coli strains found in patients with CD, UC, CRC and healthy individuals with respect to their clonality, their virulence gene profiles and their interaction with a gut epithelial cell line (Caco-2 cell).

Chlamydia Research Group

The Chlamydia and Koala Retrovirus Research Group investigates all aspects of chlamydial infections and disease in humans and a range of animals (koalas, sheep, other wildlife, fish, etc), as well as extended research into retroviruses in koalas. Focus areas of research include vaccine development, diagnostics, therapeutics, genomics, epidemiology, pathogenesis and evolution.

Research Group Leader: Professor Peter Timms

Key research areas:

  • Molecular Chlamydia

Laboratory Head: Dr Martina Jelocnik

 The "Molecular Chlamydia” research team investigates key questions in the fine-detailed molecular epidemiology of chlamydial infections in livestock (horses, cattle, sheep, pigs) and wildlife (koala, birds, free range ruminants), employing "One Health" approach. The team also works on the development of rapid isothermal assays that can be deployed at the Point-of-Care for detection of chlamydia (as well as other pathogens).

  • Koala Retrovirus and immunogenetics

Laboratory Head: Dr Bonnie Quigley 

Since being recognized in koalas in 2000, Koala Retrovirus (KoRV) is now known to be a virus widespread in koala populations across Australia. Infections with this virus have been linked to severe disease and cancer in koalas. The Koala Retrovirus (KoRV) research team is investigating fundamental questions regarding the epidemiology, evolution and management of this emerging koala pathogen. Building from this work, this team is also actively investigating koala immunogenetics (genetics related to the koala’s immune system) to better understand disease dynamics and the koala’s response to all pathogens.

  • Vaccine development

Research Head: Professor Peter Timms