Infection

Our Infection Program brings together leading experts in infection microbiology, host-pathogen interactions and antimicrobial drug resistance, as well as researchers working on the impact of microbes in our environment on human health. Together, we are making discoveries that will build the foundation knowledge needed to defeat devastating infections.

Despite medical advances and breakthroughs such as the discovery of antibiotics and vaccines, people continue to die in large numbers from infections. New pathogens can and do emerge from changing environments. The most recent example is the SARS-CoV2 virus causing the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and our researchers are working towards new solutions. Moreover, hospital-associated infections and antimicrobial drug resistance jeopardise the treatment of patients in intensive care, oncology and surgical wards, and now also COVID-19 wards. Defeating this major health problem requires innovative and multidisciplinary science.

Who we are

Research in our Infection Program typically studies pathogens and hosts as a unified, complex biological system. This approach provides the greatest insights for clinical translation: our interdisciplinary teams work at the host-pathogen interface and the strategy is comprehensive.

We visualise with high resolution the molecular drivers of microbial pathogenesis and immune responses to infection. Together with chemists and engineers, we work to develop new molecular tests, antimicrobial therapies, and build environment interventions to better diagnose, treat, and prevent infections. We are also evaluating alternative anti-infection approaches, such as phage therapy, metabolic interventions, microbiota and immune modulation. The program embraces the concept of “One Health” to understand the complex relationships between human, animal, and environmental microbes, and the impacts of human activities on our health and the planet. We also investigate animal and plant pathogens that impact food security.

Our Infection Program brings together 25 research teams. Between us we work on many priority bacterial and fungal pathogens and are supported by world-class Technology Platforms that underpin our capabilities in integrated approaches to infection. These include imaging (live cell imaging, lattice light sheet microscopy, super-resolution imaging, cryo-electron microscopy) and omics (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics, metagenomics) technologies, as well as genetic screening, computational biology, and structural biology.

In collaboration with our First Nations colleagues, we are working towards harnessing the vast microbial biodiversity within our natural environments to identify new treatment options. We engage with our clinical colleagues for access to biobanks of strains and tissues to test our discoveries in a relevant context and have infection models for major urgent-threat pathogens that cause deadly human diseases.

Our goals

Our research aims to:

  • Discover and characterise key virulence and antimicrobial drug resistance mechanisms used by urgent-threat pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and fungi).
  • Understand how we can treat or prevent infectious diseases through manipulation of the immune system, microbiota and viruses that kill bacteria (phages).
  • Decipher how metabolism impinges on pathogenesis, immune function, and antimicrobial resistance.
  • Resolve and interrupt transmission of pathogens and antimicrobial drug resistance between humans, animals, and the environment.
  • Design/discover and optimise new drugs and biological agents against infections.

Research themes

Manipulating the host-pathogen interface to defeat deadly infections.

Pathogens use sophisticated mechanisms to cause infections. We investigate how diverse bacterial, fungal, and viral pathogens evade immune clearance, thrive in the host, and cause disease from atomic to whole organism scales. In turn, we study how our immune system defends us against infections and the counter-attack strategies employed by pathogens. Ultimately, we want to stimulate and promote beneficial immune responses, to disable pathogen evasion mechanisms.

Exploiting the metabolic drivers of immune responses to pathogens.

Microbial pathogens have their own nutritional requirements. They employ metabolic strategies to evade immune destruction and outcompete beneficial microbiota. Therefore, there are opportunities to manipulate metabolism to improve patient outcomes. We are working to build new fundamental understanding of how metabolism dictates the outcomes of infection, and how metabolic, nutritional, and microbiota therapies could benefit infected patients.

Overcoming AMR infections by microbe and host-targeted approaches.

The rise of antimicrobial drug resistance (AMR) and the emergence of so-called 'superbugs' is one of the biggest global problems. We are developing creative approaches to overcome AMR by studying the distribution and mechanisms of resistance among pathogens. We are discovering and characterising new antimicrobial drugs, but also non-drug approaches targeting pathogens or host processes to defeat infections. Our researchers are members of the transdisciplinary Centre to Impact AMR and lead the Monash-Warwick Alliance Training Program in Emerging Superbug Threats, a cross-disciplinary career development program that aims to foster the new generation of AMR scientists.

Preventing pathogen transmission between human, animal, and environmental sources.

Microbes are all around us. We aim to better understand what sort of microbes are lurking within settings such as hospitals, farms, and waterways, and whether they are already resistant to antibiotics. This will enable us to prevent infections in the first place. Our researchers are members of the Wellcome Trust-funded RISE (Revitalising Informal Settlements and their Environments) program led by Monash University that has built interventions to improve the environment and in turn human health and wellbeing. We work on a wide range of environmental microbes and veterinary pathogens using cutting-edge approaches. We are also studying how we could exploit environmental microbes to develop new interventions, for example through characterising new phages and soil-derived antibiotics that kill bacteria.