Student Projects

Disease mechanisms, novel therapeutics and molecular diagnostics for scabies

Project Supervisor/s

Prospective students (Honours/Masters or PhD) will learn a wide range of molecular biology techniques, protein technology, including protein expression and purification techniques, microscopy, animal work and more.

Scabies and associated co-infections cause substantial illness and a major health burden in Indigenous communities of Northern Australia. In particular scabies-caused childhood pyoderma (bacterial skin infection) can cause severe complications in later life. Scabies-associated Streptococcus infections for example, significantly contribute to an immune complication of streptococcal infection that can leads to heart and kidney disease (rheumatic heart disease and post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis).

Diagnosis of scabies relies mostly on epidemiological and clinical algorithms rather than pathogen detection. Incorrect diagnosis can result in rapid community transmission and pathology exacerbation. New scabicides are urgently needed, as current drugs often fail because they do not kill parasite eggs and/or have short half-lives. Drug resistance is emerging.

Several research projects are underway in our laboratory:

  1. Recognising the health risk of scabies-associated pathogens, we have commenced dissecting the link between scabies and bacterial infections at a molecular level and we lead the international scabies microbiome program to define the impact of scabies on the healthy skin flora and examine the synergy between mites and bacteria.
  2. Drug resistance is an emerging problem in controlling the mites (causing scabies) and the bacteria (causing secondary infections). Our current research program combines cutting-edge basic research and unique pre-clinical studies, to compare the efficacy of several new candidate drugs that kill all stages of the scabies parasite including eggs to develop new candidate drugs.
  3. Early and accurate diagnosis of scabies is critically important, as it can help prevent transmission and/or stop scabies outbreaks, it can improve the effectiveness of treatment and clinical management and avoid long-term disease complications in patients. Inappropriate treatment of undiagnosed scabies can cause further serious disease and contribute to emerging parasite resistance. For these reasons, we are developing the first Scabies Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) System for Point-of-Care.
  4. Understanding the molecular mechanisms underpinning this disease is crucial to the development of diagnostics, treatments and cures. Therefore, we are also studying key aspects of mite biology and scabies pathogenesis. These more basic research projects are for example aimed at understanding the skin immune modulation by the parasitic mites or the severe itching, which is the main debilitating symptom of scabies infection. We have generated comprehensive integrated multi-omics databases from which we hope to identify and analyse molecular mechanisms unique to scabies. We have a powerful in vivo model and supporting technologies for pre-clinical work. We collaborate nationally and internationally with researchers and clinicians with a wide range of expertise.

Our program was developed in consultation with consumers and in response to concern over persistent high rates of scabies in remote A&TSI communities across Australia.

To apply for this project, please contact the project supervisor/s

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