Led by Dr Katja Fischer, the Scabies research group is focused on understanding the molecular interactions of scabies mite molecules with host defence systems in the skin. Scabies is one of the most common infectious skin disorders worldwide, particularly among children and in tropical regions. In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of remote northern Australia scabies prevalence is high and extreme rates of scabies-associated streptococcal and staphylococcal infections cause a significant public health burden. The group, which has been working on scabies for more than 15 years, provides crucial molecular to accelerate biomedical research and to develop new options for reducing scabies incidence and improving disease outcomes.
Scabies mites are host-specific, ‘obligatory’ parasites without environmental reservoirs. Chemotherapy is the only way to combat scabies and its transmission in humans. There is no vaccine and the few available broad-spectrum anti-parasitic drugs fail to control the disease. Emerging mite resistance against leading drugs is of growing concern. Another problem is diagnosis. There are numerous skin conditions with similar symptoms but no reliable, sensitive and simple methods to detect scabies. This makes efficient therapy, management and surveillance at individual, household and community levels very difficult.
Group Leader: Dr Katja Fischer
- Dr Simone Reynolds, Research Officer
- Dr Pearl Swe-Kay, Protein Chemist/ Enzymologist
- Ms Deepani Fernando, PhD Student
- Charlotte Bernigaud, PhD Student
- Suttida Suwannayod, PhD Student
- Hieng Lu, Research Assistant
Work in this laboratory concentrates on the control of diseases caused by the scabies mites, Sarcoptes scabiei which burrow under the skin to cause the condition commonly known as scabies.
Skin infestations with the mite Sarcoptes scabiei are becoming increasingly prevalent and have been recognised as a primary risk factor for secondary bacterial skin infections in tropical settings worldwide, including Northern Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. As resistance to current drugs is emerging there is a critical need for new therapies.
The Bacterial Pathogenesis and Scabies Laboratory at QIMR Berghofer investigate how parasitic scabies mites cause disease and how they promote serious downstream infections. Another focus point is the development of new treatments.
Laboratory work on scabies has previously been hampered because scabies mites cannot be cultured in vitro and are difficult to collect from patients. We have established an EST database and are working towards sequencing the entire scabies mite genome and transcriptome, to accelerate the use of molecular tools in the identification and study of mite virulence factors, pathways of host-parasite interactions and further candidate therapeutic targets. As a first set of candidate targets we have investigated several classes of mite essential intestinal proteases. In identifying mite complement inhibitors that promote the survival of mite associated S. pyogenes and S. aureus we are beginning to understand the molecular mechanisms that underpin the link between scabies and bacterial pathogens. We have commenced microbiome studies to elucidate the impact of scabies on the healthy skin microbiota and to identify the pathogenic and symbiotic bacteria carried by scabies mites.
The techniques you will be exposed to when working with us include molecular biology, protein expression and purification, basics of enzymology and complement research, bacteriological work (Streptococcus, Staphylococcus), immunohistology and more.
If you are interested in potential projects with our group please seek further details from Dr Katja Fischer (07 3362 0417; Katja.Fischer@qimrberghofer.edu.au). The particular aims of your project will be discussed at the time of application.
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