Population Health and Immunity

Population Health and Immunity

The Population Health and Immunity division uses population-based studies to investigate the basic biology of diseases.

We have a strong focus on the epidemiology of infectious diseases such as malaria, and understanding the causes of complex diseases including diabetes and brain disorders.

Our studies generate complex, high-dimensional data sets. Our division incorporates expertise in bioinformatic and statistical approaches to interpret these data.

Enhanced sequencing of circulating DNA

Cell-free DNA is DNA released from cells – such as normal cells, a developing embryo or cancerous tissues – that circulates in the blood. Sequencing of cell-free DNA has recently gained significant interest for its potential as a non-invasive test for detecting foetal abnormalities, and detecting cancer and monitoring its spread and response to treatment.

Dr Dineika Chandrananda, Dr Natalie Thorne and Professor Melanie Bahlo have described distinctive DNA patterns found in cell-free DNA. These patterns could be harnessed to improve algorithms and analysis, enabling scientists to identify and develop biomarkers that monitor changes that occur in disease, including cancer.

Funding for malaria vaccine

Researchers received a $2.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pursue the preclinical development of a vaccine aimed at eradicating malaria. The funding will enable the team of researchers to develop a broad-spectrum vaccine effective against most species of the parasite that causes human malaria.

The research will be led by Professor Louis Schofield, laboratory head at the institute and director of the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine, Queensland, with colleagues at the institute and collaborators and institutions in the US.

Pinpointing faulty genes

Professor Melanie Bahlo won the 2015 Ross Crozier Medal from the Genetics Society of Australasia for her contributions to pinpointing faulty genes involved in human diseases.

Professor Bahlo has made fundamental contributions to population genetics, genetics and bioinformatics. Her work has found the genes responsible for illnesses such as epilepsy, ataxia – a neurological disorder that aff ects muscle control, and mitochondrial disease – a debilitating condition culminating in organ failure. She has directly contributed to discovering 22 genes that are involved in human disease, particularly genetic brain disorders.

Health impact

Infectious disease: filariasis, malaria, tuberculosis, vaccines

Immune disorders: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes

Other areas: brain disorders, congenital disease

Division heads

Professor Melanie Bahlo

Professor Ivo Mueller

Lab heads

Professor Len Harrison

Professor Louis Schofield

Associate Professor Alyssa Barry

Associate Professor Aaron Jex

Dr Leanne Robinson

Divison coordinator

Natalie Senzo