Malaria has been a scourge of mankind for millennia. According to the World Health Organisation, there are currently 300 to 500 million clinical cases of malaria, mainly in tropical and sub-tropical regions. A child dies of malaria every 15 seconds and the total number of deaths every year is 1.5 to 2.7 million. The economic and social burden is enormous.
When an individual is bitten by an infected mosquito, malaria parasites are released into the blood stream. The parasites multiply in the liver and then infect red blood cells, where they are hidden from the body’s immune system. Researchers in the Infection and Immunity division seek to understand how the malaria parasite causes life-threatening pathology in humans in order to develop better treatments and preventive strategies. They are harnessing high throughput advanced technologies to identify effective vaccine targets. In collaboration with X-ray crystallographers and medicinal chemists, they also hope to develop new and more effective antimalarials.
Immunity is the body’s defence mechanism against disease. When the immune system is compromised, the body is more susceptible to infection by viruses, bacteria and parasites. The Infection and Immunity, Molecular Immunology and Immunology divisions are working towards understanding what makes the body prone to disease, how it reacts to infection and using this information, are developing methods for prevention and treatment.
With still so many unmet medical needs around the world, the development of new and improved vaccines to prevent disease is paramount. Researchers in the Immunology, Molecular Immunology, and Infection and Immunity sivisions are continually probing the intricacies of the immune system to ascertain how it can be harnessed more effectively to eliminate debilitating diseases. Field studies are underway in Papua New Guinea, Kenya and Vietnam. Multi-centre early stage clinical trials have been launched in Australasia.
Chronic infectious disease
Chronic viral and bacterial diseases such as HIV, hepatitis viruses and tuberculosis have had a tremendous impact on all societies and are a priority for global health agencies. Current therapies have significantly helped in the management of chronic viral diseases but they are seldom curative. The emergence of drug resistant bacteria has significantly complicated antibiotic therapy of tuberculosis. Chronic viruses and bacteria have developed numerous strategies to subvert the body’s ability to fight them. Dr Marc Pellegrini and his colleagues in the Infection and Immunity division are seeking to develop novel therapeutics and technologies that boost the body’s own immune response against resistant viruses and bacteria to help eliminate them in infected individuals and prevent spread of disease.