Scabies

Dr Katja Fischer

Group Leader

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. The group, which has been working on scabies for more than 15 years, aims 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 broad-spectrum anti-parasitic drugs available 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, simple methods to detect scabies. This makes efficient therapy, management and surveillance at individual, household and community levels very difficult.

Novel drugs and diagnostic tools to treat scabies are urgently needed. A central challenge is to comprehend mite biology and scabies pathogenesis, which are poorly understood, resulting in a lack of knowledge of specific drug targets in the parasite

CURRENT RESEARCH

  • partnered with leading experts in bioinformatics and parasite genomics to establish the first comprehensive fully assembled and annotated, high quality scabies mite genome, integrated with the mite proteome and transcriptome, which will be an invaluable resource to identify candidate target proteins for drug discovery and diagnostics
  • analyse the scabies mite associated microbiota to elucidate the impact of scabies on the microscopic organisms living on healthy skin and to identify new strategies for treating scabies and secondary infections
  • discovered several classes of proteins that interfere with the immediate immune response of the skin and thereby allow pathogens to grow. If we understand the molecular mechanisms that underpin the intricate links between mites and bacteria we may be able to interfere therapeutically
  • exploring mite proteins that are unique for this parasite as potential targets for new therapeutics. The mite produces many intestinal proteases, proteins important in egg development, proteins interfering with coagulation and proteins interfering with skin function among which some may turn out as suitable targets for a novel scabies drug
  • developed a worldwide unique scabies in vivo model to undertake in vitro and in vivo testing of novel drug candidates in collaboration with commercial partners

LIVE FROM THE LAB – THE WAR ON SCABIES

Join Dr Katja Fischer and her team at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute as they as they show you through their laboratory. They will introduce you to some of their projects towards new diagnostics and drugs for future use in scabies outbreaks. You’ll find out about scabies parasites and why it’s important to study them. You will have the opportunity to learn about the disease that these parasites cause, and what research is underway to make a change.

We have aligned our laboratory-based research with the needs voiced by patients, families and health staff exposed to the burden of scabies in remote communities in northern Australia.

We maintain collaborative initiatives based within remote Aboriginal communities, to increase public awareness for skin health, to seek input from affected community members and to expose our team to the local situation to develop a deeper understanding of burden and needs.

We are working with three communities in the Cooktown region to realise the Australian branch of the multi-national microbiota study on scabies.

On request we are testing bush medicines, balms and oils from native plants for acaricidal properties.

In partnership with Orange Sky Australia, a mobile laundry service for people in need, we develop community-led initiatives to improve hygiene standards, reduce the spread of infectious diseases, improve health outcomes, increase education and awareness and provide local employment opportunities.

We organise and host work experience placements for high school students from remote north Queensland and travel to remote schools to deliver lectures and laboratory workshops, promoting science in skin health. Summary report – High school outreach in remote northwest Queensland [PDF, 3MB]. Download here.

Staff

  • 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

Internal Collaborators

External Collaborators

  • T Papenfuss, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
  • O Chosidow, Hospital Henri Mondor, France
  • B Currie, Royal Darwin Hospital
  • D Holt, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin
  • K Mounsey, Sunshine Coast University
  • R Pike, Monash University
  • A Blom, Lund University, Sweden
  • R Gasser & P Korhonen, University of Melbourne
  • S Burgess, Moredun Research Institute, Edinburgh
  • M Jones, University of Queensland
  • A Pandey, Johns Hopkins University
  • J Beggs, Pathology Qld
  • D Eisen, James Cook Univeristy
  • K Andrews, Griffith University
  • T Darben & E McMeniman, dermatologists, North Qld
  • J Guillot & F Botterel, Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire d’Alfort, France
  • M Karmarkar & U Khopkar, KEM Hospital Parel, Mumbai
  • M Dekkers & A Kelly, QASP-University of Queensland

Remote Qld Health Centres

  • Wujal Wujal: V Connellan (Nursing Director), LA Jacobus (Adv Nurse Consultant), F Walker & A Tayley (Health Workers)
  • Cooktown: N Coventry (Medical Superintendent), H Hanush (Sr Health Worker), F Williams & L Murray (Health workers)
  • HopeVale: L Reid (Nursing Director), J Ross (Adv Nurse Consultant), G Port (Sr Health Worker)
  • National Health and Medical Research Council
  • Australian Research Council
  • The Lowitja Institute