Investing in Health

Priority Research Theme: Infection and Immunological Conditions

Tackling the "Superbug" Threat

Theme Leader: Professor Tania Sorrell

Infectious diseases are a leading cause of death worldwide and each year new infectious agents are emerging. To combat this sobering reality, this theme is focused on better understanding the body's immune response. A well functioning immune response is important for a wide range of dieseas, from autoimmune conditions, where the immune response to the individual is excessive, to emerging infectious diseases afflicting populations around the world.

Sydney Medical School has a considerable depth of expertise in infectious diseases and immunity, boasting numerous cutting-edge programs in the areas of HIV, swine and human influenza, tuberculosis and malaria.

A crticial threat to continued health improvement and the ability to treat severe disease is antibiotic resistance, acknowledged by the World Health Organisation early in 2012 as a serious, growing and global threat. Totally drug-resistant (untreatable) malaria and tuberculosis were reported in 2012, while many bacteria that cause potentially fatal diseases such as septicaemia (blood poisoning), pneumonia or meningitis are now resistant to commonly available, and sometime all, antibiotics.

The University's leading researchers examine bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi, and also investigate all types of immune reactions, including agents of real consequence to Australia and the Asia-Pacific. The Asia-Pacific region is an important "hot spot" as it is a key incubator of emerging infectious diseases, due to its favourable climatic conditions, high population densities and poorly regulated industries. Research and capacity building across discipline boundaries are essential to unravel the complex interactions that drive the emergence and re-emergence of infectious diseases in the densely populated countries on our doorstep. Australia and Sydney Medical School are therefore in a unique position to step into the spotlight and lead crucial research in the region.

In 2009 the School established a new research group targeting emerging infectious diseases. This group is now making even greater gains due to the establishment of the Sydney Emerging Infections and Biosecurity Institute (SEIB) in 2010. Unique in Australia, the Institute is truly multidisciplinary, and continues to harness a broad range of expertise from across the University in human/animal health sciences, environmental, biological, social and political sciences, law and ethics, with the aim of targeting and reducing the global impact of emerging infectious diseases on human and animal health.

Funding Opportunity: A Unique Multi-Systems Approach To the Study of Epidemic Emergence and Transmission

Large outbreaks of infectious diseases can greatly impact on the health, economies and social stability of populations, particularly in, but not limited to, developing countries. Prevention and control through early recognition, real-time tracking and rapid communication guiding public health action, are now a possibility, due to the development of high capacity electronic analytic systems and genetic technologies.

This SEIB project links high throughput analyses on complete genome sequences (ie the entire genetic code) of viruses, with information from social media surveillance and geographic information systems that map disease spread in place and time, in order to obtain a precise picture of disease epidemiology and dynamics.

This will directly result in researchers better monitoring and predicting specific outbreaks, thus reducing their impact and leading to a much more effective use of scarce public health resources.

Post-doctoral position: $90,000 per year
Over five years: $450,000