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Early Career Researchers

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BMDT, with strong collaborative foundations at inter-disciplinary, inter-Faculty, inter-campus and externalinstitutional and international levels, aims to play a leadership role in fostering the career development of early career researchers (ECRs). Some of the project leaders, researchers and ECRs within the CBMDT currently hold NHMRC and ARC senior fellowships and post-doctoral awards, underpinning an experienced and nurturing environment for the progression of post-docs through the fellowship and national and international granting schemes.

Dr. Helma Antony (Molecular Characterisation & Design)

Project 1: Development of Ultra-sensitive Molecular Diagnostics for Influenza and Dengue
Dengue and influenza are viral pandemics that affect millions of people worldwide, of which a good proportion suffer the life-threatening variant of these infections. Seasonal variations due to genetic shuffling and antigenic drifts in the influenza viruses have necessitated continual updating of diagnostics and treatment, therefore leading to delayed disease management.  In the case of dengue, primary infections with one serotype have shown to exacerbate subsequent heterotypic infections and in addition, pre-existing cross-reactive antibodies interfere with accurate diagnosis. This clearly highlights the need for molecular diagnostic assays that are highly sensitive and specific.

Project 2: Role of Prions and Protein-only Inheritance in Cancer
While gene mutations cause familial cancers that exhibit Mendelian inheritance, a genetic cause for sporadic cancers is not yet established. An intriguing possibility is that prions could infect and inactivate the same proteins implicated by familial cancer genes.Prions are normal proteins that have undergone a stable conformational switch and can confer cytoplasmic inheritance of cellular phenotypes (also called "protein-only inheritance"). This phenomenon enables cell populations to rapidly acquire phenotypic heterogeneity at a much greater frequency than that would be possible genetically. The impact of such a discovery is considerable as it could translate into better prevention, diagnosis and treatment.


Dr. Ioana Bowden (Molecular Characterisation & Design)

Project: Rare earth metal complexes as anti-microbial and anti-cancer agents


Dr. Alanna Cooper (Molecular Characterisation & Design)

Project: Development of improved melioidosis diagnostics
Melioidosis is an infectious disease caused by the Gram negative bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. The mortality rate in northern Australia is approximately 16%. The current gold standard for diagnosis is culture, which often requires 3-4 days to obtain a result. The existing serological technique is an indirect haemagglutination assay (IHA) which has several disadvantages. Approximately half of melioidosis patients are not detected on presentation and a subset of patients are persistently seronegative. We have developed a polyplex grid array, an ELISA and a quantitative immuno-PCR capable of detecting antibodies in IHA-negative patients. More rapid and reliable serological testing for melioidosis is essential and will improve diagnosis and patient outcome.


Dr. Ramon Eichenberger (Biodiscovery)

Project: Immunobiology of hookworm exosomes and their potential as a source of novel anti-inflammatory biologics
Hookworms are one of the most prevalent parasites in developing countries where they cause enormous morbidity. In contrast however, in the developed world where major helminthic infections have been mainly eradicated, declining prevalence of parasitic infections correlates with increased incidence of allergic- and autoimmune disorders. Novel therapeutic interventions for immune-related diseases are needed, as conventional therapies are associated with severe long-term side effects and are frequently ineffective. Because of the exquisite immune-modulatory capacity of helminths, the treatment of inflammatory diseases with helminths has been proposed and shown to offer promise in both clinical trials and studies in animal with a range of inflammatory diseases. Recent research has shown that helminths communicate with their surrounding host cells by secreting small extracellular vesicles (EVs), called exosomes. Nematode EVs are able to suppress allergen-induced type 2 innate responses and generate a regulatory and/or suppressive immune state that is beneficial for the parasite’s long-term survival. We hypothesise that hookworms secrete EVs composed of protein, mRNA, miRNA and lipids, and that these EVs interact with host cells and induce an anti-inflammatory phenotype, thus serving as a source of novel therapeutics for treating inflammatory disorders. By proteomic, transcriptomic, and immunological approaches, we will aim to characterise hookworm EVs, characterise their ability to change host cell gene expression and profile their immune-modulatory properties both in vitro and in vivo. The results will reveal new ways by which hookworms modulate inflammation and how this evolutionary adaptation might be harnessed in the development of desperately needed new anti-inflammatory therapies.

Dr. Marshall Feterl (Molecular Characterisation & Design)


Dr. Elecia Johnston (Molecular Characterisation & Design)

Project: Development of Novel Ultrasensitive Diagnostic Technologies
The project looks at applying a recently developed untrasensitive diagnostic assay to the detection of current relevant diseases. The first of these is seafood allergy. As the allergic response involves low abundance IgE's, an extremely sensitive test is required for accurate detection. The unique assay makes use of a tight protein-DNA interaction, linked to the antigen, thereby allowing antibody detection by quantitative real-time PCR. The second aim is to apply the assay to the diagnosis of malaria. There are several malarial detection methods available but each has their limitations and downfalls. We hope to use our new diagnostic tool to aid in earlier detection of malaria, thus reducing harm to patients.

Dr. Sandip Kamath (Biodiscovery; Molecular Characterisation & Design)

Project: Identification and characterisation of novel allergens in Australian shellfish species for improved diagnosis
My research seeks to address an issue of vital importance: the biochemical modifications caused to food allergens due to heating or food processing, and investigate the resultant effects on their interaction with the human immune system through allergen specific IgE antibodies. This research will help advance our understanding of the mechanisms of allergen exposure and IgE antibody recognition and will aid in the development of novel approaches to generate potential hypoallergenic proteins as novel immunotherapeutics for food allergy.


Dr. Severine Navarro (Molecular Immunology)

Project: Suppression of acute and chronic inflammation with recombinant hookworm proteins
We are focusing on the development of anti-inflammatory drugs from proteins secreted by the dog hookworm (Ancylostoma caninum) to treat acute and chronic inflammation such as inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis) and asthma.



Mr. Darren Pickering (Molecular Characterisation & Design)

Project: Schistosoma mansoni and Hookworm vaccine development
My work mostly focuses on recombinant protein expression using both bacterial and yeast expression systems to support Hookworm and Schistosoma vaccine development projects.

Dr. Michael Smout (Biodiscovery; Molecular Characterisation & Design)

Project: Novel Worm dancing assay to detect parasite drug resistance
The disease burden of human parasitic worms outranks malaria and is second to only to HIV-AIDS.  Worm treatments, which globally infect billions of people and livestock, are failing as drug resistance emerges.  Currently, drug treatments are manually assessed with problematic inefficient methods that suffer from being laborious, subjective and low-throughput.  To help prevent this global threat we created a new faecal egg hatch assay which simply and objectively assesses real time anti-parasite efficacy of drugs in a fully automated, label-free, high-throughput fashion.  Early detection of worm drug resistance through global monitoring is essential to provide forewarning of this emerging calamity.

Dr Javier Sotillo (Biodiscovery; Molecular Characterisation & Design)

Project: Characterisation of novel hookworm and Schistosoma mansoni protein vaccine candidates
Parasites secrete a vast number of proteins into their habitat. These proteins promote immunological and pathological changes to the host that facilitate parasite survival. Despite the recent advances in proteomics and transcriptomics in the last few years, the majority of these proteins and their associated functions remain unknown. Here, we work on the characterisation of these compounds, which can be used in the development of new vaccines against some of the most pathogenic tropical parasites.

Dr Aya Taki (Molecular Immunology)

https://research.jcu.edu.au/portfolio/aya.taki/

Dr. Phurpa Wangchuk (Biodiscovery)

Project: Isolation and pre-clinical evaluation of small molecule anti-inflammatory compounds from hookworms
Taking cues from millennia of host-parasite coevolution, my research envisions harnessing the unique ability of hookworm to modulate inflammation and determine the therapeutic potential of the low molecular weight (LMW) cultured excretory/secretory (ES <10 kDa) products and somatic extracts of adult hookworms. It focuses on the: (1) Development of appropriate extraction/fractionation protocols for hookworm small molecules; (2) Isolation, structure elucidation and identification of small molecule drug lead compounds; (2) Derivatization/semi-synthesis of these molecules with potent bioactivities; (3) Evaluation of the anti-inflammatory activity of crude extracts and their compounds using in vitro, in vivo and ex vivo experimental models.

*Other future projects will diverge into drug discovery from tropical flora and fauna.