Medical researchers seek Latin American partners
29 May 2013
A University delegation is visiting Chile, Brazil and Argentina to stimulate interest among partner universities for joint research projects on infectious diseases.
The delegation, led by Professor Bruce Robinson, Dean of Sydney Medical School, is seeking to build on existing collaborations with South America. The delegates include Professor Cheryl Anne Jones, Deputy Dean, Head of the Centre for Perinatal Infection Research at the Children's Hospital at Westmead, and Professor Jon Iredell, Director of the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Critical Infectious Diseases.
Professor Iredell is hoping to find Latin American partners to study the growing worldwide problem of antibiotic resistance, particularly in developing countries.
"Sydney is part of a global network that examines the ecology of this phenomenon and how best to manage it," he said. "We are well positioned in Asia to look at regional diversity and evolution and compare this with the Americas."
Professor Iredell's team is working on the problem of why resistant bugs are taking over the 'healthy' population of bugs that are the product of millennia of human and bacterial co-evolution - and what can be done to reverse the trend.
"It's a bit like cane toads in Kakadu or weeds in the rainforest, it's another example ofhuman mismanagement of an ecosystem," he said. "But this one is relatively invisible and has been ignored and trivialised. Only now are we realising we're in trouble."
Attention is focused on the human microbiome - the mass of microorganisms that live in and on our bodies, and which are thought to play a critical role in our health and wellbeing.
"From the scientific point of view, it's a global system like the weather and the oceans that is probably even more complex and even less well understood," said Professor Iredell. "From the health point of view, we may be looking at a fundamental global shift in the human microbiome that affects everything from nutrition to immunity to infection."
The best hope, he said, is that advancements in biotechnology, informatics and genomics will give scientists a better understanding of how bacteria and humans interact, enabling them to develop early warning systems and to better recognise and react to threats.
"There are some exciting research possibilities on offer that might allow us to reset the system, if it is not too damaged already," he said.
During the delegation, discussions will be held with Austral University of Chile in Valdivia, the University of Chile in Santiago, the University of Sao Paulo, the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, the University of Buenos Aires and Austral University in Buenos Aires.
Contact: Richard North
Phone: 02 9351 3191