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Translational Microbiology

The Translational Microbiology Group focuses on bacterial pathogens of major global health importance including Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus) and Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus, “Strep A”). We investigate their pathogenesis, interaction with viruses, and how infections can be best prevented with vaccines. We collaborate closely with clinicians, epidemiologists and immunologists, including in countries in the Asia-Pacific region, to facilitate translation and global impact.

We conduct research across the following areas: 

  • Improve vaccine strategies in low-middle income settings by identifying the
    • Impact of vaccines in children and adults
    • Optimal vaccination schedules
    • Vaccine impact on antimicrobial resistance
    • Improved vaccine strategies in humanitarian crisis settings
  • Better diagnostics for children with severe pneumonia
  • Understanding the biology of bacterial pathogens
  • Bacterial-viral interactions
    • Bacterial colonisation and carriage
  • Discovery of new serotypes and variants
  • Population genomics

For more information on the work of the Translational Microbiology group or opportunities for higher degree research please contact Catherine Satzke.

Group Leaders: 
Group Members: 
Dr Jonathan Jacobson
Role: 
Research Officer
Dr Laura Boelsen
Role: 
Research Officer
Belinda Ortika
Role: 
Senior Research Assistant
Casey Pell
Role: 
Senior Research Assistant
Monica Nation
Role: 
Senior Research Assistant
Leena Spry
Role: 
Research Assistant
Ahmed Alamrousi
Role: 
Research Assistant
Ashleigh Wee-Hee
Role: 
Research Assistant
Frances Oppedisano
Role: 
Laboratory Manager
Rex Hou
Role: 
PhD
Jenny Hua
Role: 
PhD
Emily Coleman
Role: 
MPhil
Hao Yang Lim
Role: 
Masters by Coursework
Shirley Lin
Role: 
Honours
Jayne Manning
Role: 
Research Associate
Odilia Wijburg
Role: 
Honorary Fellow
Dr Eileen Dunne
Role: 
Honorary Fellow

Diagnosis and prevention of bacterial diseases

Improved diagnostics for serious childhood pneumonia

MATE & MATE-Asia: Empyema is an increasingly common complication of severe pneumonia in children in Australia and around the world. Identifying the bacterial species responsible helps doctors prescribe the best course of antibiotics. With current methods, the bacterial cause is identified in only ~20% of cases. In the Molecular Assessment of Thoracic Empyema (MATE) and MATE-Asia studies we are developing a new molecular diagnostic to improve identification rates for children with empyema to improve patient outcomes.

Vaccine strategies for low-middle income countries

Vaccine impact studies: The introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV) results in a dramatic reduction in pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia. PCVs also reduce colonisation (carriage) of the types of pneumococci included in the vaccine, preventing progression to disease as well as spread to others (herd protection). Using microbiological techniques, we are measuring the impact of PCV on pneumococcal nasopharyngeal carriage in children and/or adults in Fiji, Mongolia, Lao, and Papua New Guinea.

Vaccine trials: Despite the dramatic reduction in pneumococcal disease following its introduction, there is little evidence to guide decision-makers on which vaccine to choose. The high price of the pneumococcal vaccines remains a significant barrier to implementation in many countries. We are using microbiology to assess differences in licensed vaccines and examining the effect of different schedules with fewer doses. These trials are being conducted in Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang to assess the impact on nasopharyngeal carriage, and therefore likely herd protection.

For further information please visit the following pages
New Vaccines
Asia Pacific Health

Novel approaches to prevent disease

Preventing Young Infant Infections using Azithromycin in Labour: Skin and soft tissue infections (SSTIs) are common causes of infant and maternal morbidity and infant mortality. A simple, low-cost approach to preventing these infections is required in settings where access to health care is poor, and where other approaches are unsuitable.  In the Bulabula MaPei project we are investigating whether a single dose of oral azithromycin given to women in labour in Fiji reduces young infant SSTI rates and carriage of bacteria commonly causing maternal and infant infections.

Understanding the biology of bacterial colonisation and disease

Interactions of respiratory bacteria and viruses

Interactions between pneumococcus and viruses: The contribution of bacterial-viral co-infections to the onset and severity of disease is increasingly attracting global interest. Co-infections of Streptococcus pneumoniae with respiratory viruses (e.g. Influenza or Respiratory Syncytial Virus) impact the severity of acute respiratory infections. We aim to explain the interplay between pneumococci and respiratory viruses, understand the mechanisms involved and the implications and applications of these interactions for vaccines.

Group A streptococcus and viral interactions: The bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus, GAS or “Strep A”) causes a range of mild to severe infections, from sore throat to toxic shock syndrome. There is recent clinical epidemiological evidence that viruses are important in GAS pathogenesis, but little is known about this process. We are using murine and specialized cell-culture models to examine the effect of viruses on S. pyogenes colonisation, transmission (spread), disease and the mechanisms involved.

Pneumococcal carriage following vaccine introduction

Use of genomics to determine the effect of vaccine introduction on pneumococcal antimicrobial resistance: The serotypes contained within PCV are those which have more antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Vaccine introduction reduces the carriage of PCV serotypes and limits the use of antibiotics by preventing pneumococcal infections. Our aim is to determine the effectiveness of PCV13 against pneumococcal AMR in Lao.

Identify emerging non-vaccine serotypes: There are 100 serotypes of S. pneumoniae. The current pneumococcal vaccines protect against 10 or13 serotypes. Following PCV introduction, non-vaccine types become more common (“serotype replacement”) in both carriage and disease. We are developing new molecular techniques to determine which serotypes are causing severe pneumonia in children across Asia and monitoring serotype replacement as part of our vaccine impact studies.

Discovery of novel serotype variants across Asia: We are discovering and characterizing novel genetic variants (and potentially new serotypes) in low and middle-income countries across Asia. Specifically, our work aims to understand how these variants can be mistyped using common methods used in carriage studies and disease surveillance programs, and whether they would be targeted by existing vaccines, to inform future vaccine strategies.

NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence for Pneumococcal Disease Control in the Asia-Pacific

Our group is undertaking a number of microbiology projects within the CRE.

Overall, the CRE aims to address two outstanding research gaps for pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) use in the Asia-Pacific region:

  • Country decisions regarding reduced dose PCV schedules (1+1)
  • Understanding serotype replacement following vaccine introduction

The program will generate new evidence to support decisions regarding the sustainability of national immunisation PCV programs, forge partnerships with key end-users, establish new international linkages to enable broader dissemination, develop the next generation of nationally competitive researchers.

For more information, please visit NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence for Pneumococcal Disease Control in the Asia-Pacific

Collaborations: 

Australian Collaborators:

We collaborate widely, including with:

  • The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute:
  • Campus partners, including The Royal Children’s Hospital (Centre for International Child Health (CICH)) and The University of Melbourne Department of Paediatrics and Department of Microbiology and Immunology
  • Monash Children's Hospital and Department of Paediatrics, Monash University
  • RMIT University
  • La Trobe University
  • Menzies School of Health Research
  • Telethon Kids Institute
  • The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI)
  • QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute

International Collaborators:

  • Colonial War Memorial Hospital, Fiji
  • The Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services
  • The Mongolian Ministry of Health
  • National Center of Communicable Diseases (NCCD), Mongolia
  • Pasteur Institute, Vietnam
  • St George’s University of London (SGUL), UK
  • Laos-Oxford-Mahosot Welcome Research Unit (LOMWRU)
  • Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Public Health England
  • Eijkman Institute, Indonesia
  • Universitas Padjadjaran/Hasan Sadikin General Hospital - Department of Child Health, Indonesia
  • University of Bern, Switzerland
  • Philippine General Hospital, University of the Philippines
  • Duke-National University of Singapore, Singapore
  • Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Yale School of Public Health
  • Wellcome Sanger Institute, UK