Research into infection, immunity & inflammation
Theme Leader: Nick King
This is the smallest Research Theme in the Bosch Institute, but it recently has been strengthened by the recruitment of an internationally-renowned researcher, Professor Georges Grau. There also are links to the research activity of two other new recruits to the Institute, Professors Roland Stocker and Des Richardson.
Investigators in this Theme are studying a range of globally important infectious disease organisms. These organisms cause severe disease, tissue destruction, and sometimes death, due in large part to damage caused by an over-vigorous or badly targeted immune response. This process is called "immunopathology". Organisms being studied include protozoa, bacteria and viruses:
- protozoa, in particular malaria, which causes one of the highest death rates in the world, often in children
- bacteria, including Chlamydia (greatest cause of infectious blindness; also a significant silent cause of infertility) and Salmonella (cause of typhoid and other severe gastrointestinal disease)
- viruses, including RNA viruses, such as Flaviviruses, which together cause the greatest disease burden of encephalitic disease, followed by permanent neurological deficits; Respiratory syncytial virus and Rhinovirus, two viruses having the highest association with asthma onset in children; influenza A virus, which in the 1918 pandemic killed more people than World War I and which stands to cause the next pandemic in the form of the H5N1 variant of "bird flu"; hepatitis C virus, emerging as one of the most likely causes of liver failure and liver cancer today; human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer in women throughout the world (although Australian scientists have been instrumental in making a vaccine against HPV, now in clinical trials, we still do not understand the exact mechanisms of how HPV causes cancer); and DNA viruses, such as herpes viruses, including varicella virus, and cytomegalovirus, both of which are able to become latent after infection and re-activate whenever the immune response is compromised – for example, during malnutrition, transplantation or in AIDS infection.
While each of these groups necessarily works on specific areas within this Research Theme, there is considerable interaction that has led to innovative approaches to investigating these areas. These broad thematic collaborations have resulted in research "hot spots" which are advancing the field in exciting and unanticipated ways. For example, the complementary nature of Hunt and Grau's work has meant that together they have made important strides in understanding the pathogenesis of malaria, which would not have been possible had they worked separately. There also are areas of similar approach used by the entire Theme to investigate, for example, the role of cytokines, and changes in gene expression during disease. This commonality has generated a broad knowledge and skills base from which to quickly solve problems and train young investigators.
Projects within the Theme also have significant overlap with other Research Themes and this cross-disciplinary collaboration opens up significant new areas of research. This is exemplified by the collaboration of King and Cook, investigating the effects of respiratory viruses on epithelial ion channels. This has led to a novel understanding of how influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, for example, spread within the lungs and interfere with normal breathing during infection. Some similar developments have led to the investigation of the severe lung manifestations of malaria, in which Hunt and Cook now collaborate.
Desired impact on knowledge and/or practice
- Basic Sciences: To develop a detailed understanding of the causation, initiating factors and mechanisms of immunopathological damage caused by infectious disease in relation to the generation of timely, efficacious innate and adaptive immune responses.
- Innovation: To facilitate invention of innovative research techniques by scientifically "cross-cultural" collaboration, enabled by (1) links generated within the Research Theme and (2) links generated with members of other Research Themes.
- Translation: To enable (1) an informed approach to the clinical abrogation, treatment or palliation of immunopathology associated with virus infection, (2) new diagnostic methods for earlier reliable detection of disease and its associated pathology, (3) new methods of prevention and/or control of infection, based on our findings in this Research Theme.