Tuberculosis (TB) is the major cause of death from a bacterial pathogen in adults; in 2013 alone there were 1.5 million deaths from TB and 9 million new TB cases worldwide. In addition it remains an important cause of childhood illness and mortality in high burden countries, with 80,000 deaths in HIV-negative children in 2013.
Of importance to Australia, TB is an enormous and rapidly growing problem in our region, which contains 58% of global TB cases and 56% of multi-drug resistant TB.
As a result, our STOP-TB strategy calls for intensified research into more effective tools to control TB, including completely new approaches to TB vaccines, TB drugs and tools for the diagnosis of active TB and biomarkers to monitor the response to therapy.
FINDING A CURE
We are developing vaccines for delivery to the lung to boost immunity against TB. We are also developing subunit vaccines that contain proteins to stimulate protective immunity against different stages of the TB infection.
Around 2 million people have latent TB infection, with around 5% risk of developing active TB during their lifetime. As such, we are working to discover new biomarkers to distinguish those with active TB. We are also conducting a genome wide association study to identify genetic variants that contribute to increased susceptibility to TB.
The major threat to TB control is the emergence of drug resistant strains of the infection. For the past five years we have also been working towards the development of new drugs that are effective against these increasingly prevalent drug resistant strains.
Professor Warwick Britton, Head of Program
Bosch Professor of Medicine, and Professor of Immunology, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney
Consultant Physician, Department of Clinical Immunology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
Recently, he initiated new collaborative research programs in Vietnam on improving the control of tuberculosis and on immunogenetics of tuberculosis.
Since 1997 his group has used an aerosol model of infection with virulent M. tuberculosis in a dedicated PC3 facility in the Centenary Institute. This has allowed them to analyse the cellular and cytokine control of M. tuberculosis infection in the lungs using genetically modified mice and to develop novel subunit and recombinant BCG vaccines to prevent infection with M. tuberculosis.
In addition his group has identified a new secreted enzyme of M. tuberculosis, which is a novel target for drug development. Professor Britton also has a longstanding research interest in the epidemiology and immunology of asthma, and established a long running cohort on childhood asthma in 1982.
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Blood vessels are the highways that transport our immune cells to sites of inflammation. Our laboratory uses the zebrafish model organism to understand how the behaviour of blood vessels (including growth (angiogenesis) and leakiness (vascular permeability)) affects the function of the immune system. This work will lead to the novel treatments for inflammatory diseases including atherosclerosis, tuberculosis, and meningitis.