Infection and Immunity

Still from WEHI.TV animation Malaria Lifecycle.

Research Focus

The division works on major infectious diseases that affect human health. Our goal is to understand the host immune response and the way that this can protect and in some cases exacerbate disease. We also aim to understand how these pathogens cause disease and to use this knowledge in designing new treatments and vaccines.

Overview

The Infection and Immunity division has two main objectives; firstly, to obtain fundamental insights into the biology and immunology of infectious diseases, and secondly, to develop novel ways to combat these infectious agents. Our research covers mechanisms of pathogenesis and toxin action, immune evasion strategies, the targets and mechanisms of protective immunity, parasite and host genetics, and the development of vaccines and drugs. Our research covers a wide spectrum from basic laboratory research to clinical and population studies that involve numerous international collaborations.

Malaria and leishmaniasis

We aim to improve current methods for preventing and treating two important parasitic diseases: malaria and Leishmaniasis. We believe that an understanding of the basic mechanisms of immunology, cell biology and genetics is central to the development of vaccines and novel chemotherapeutic treatments of these diseases. A large number of malaria and Leishmania protein and glycan antigens have been identified, but little is known of their function or of their potential as vaccine candidates or drug targets. An important component of our work aims to increase our knowledge of the structure and function of these molecules.

Each year, 500 million people contract malaria, and over two million die as a result. Most deaths occur among infants and children under the age of five. In addition to this enormous health burden, malaria is considered to have a major impact on social and economic development in countries where disease is endemic. Plasmodium falciparum, the most dangerous of the Plasmodium species that infect humans, is responsible for almost all fatal cases of malaria.

Leishmania parasites infect at least 12 million individuals globally with a mortality rate of about 50,000 annually and a significant burden of disease. It has become a major problem in war-torn endemic countries and in people with HIV/AIDS. Treatment of leishmaniasis is severely hampered by high toxicity, low efficacy and increasing resistance to existing drugs. And of course, as is the case with malaria, there is no vaccine against leishmaniasis.

Chronic infectious diseases

Chronic viral and bacterial diseases like HIV, hepatitis viruses and tuberculosis have had a tremendous impact on all societies and feature as a priority amongst global health issues. 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. In the Infection and Immunity division we 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.

Infection and Immunity PhD and Honours student research projects

Faculty Members

Professor Alan Cowman (Division Head)

Dr Alyssa Barry

Dr Justin Boddey

Dr Diana Hansen

Professor Ivo Mueller

Dr Marc Pellegrini

Professor Louis Schofield

Dr Chris Tonkin

Dr Wai-Hong Tham

Click here to support the research of the Infection and Immunity division and help find better treatments and vaccines for malaria, leishmaniasis and chronic infectious diseases.