Parasitology Research Group

Research

Our research interests involve understanding the role and impact of parasites across several levels within an ecosystem. This includes interactions among parasites within an individual host, the transmission of parasites within populations, and the ecology of parasites within ecosystems. In particular, our research has a One Health focus; understanding the role of domestic animals and humans in the transmission of exotic diseases to wildlife, and the potential of wildlife as a disease reservoir, with a focus on wildlife conservation. We integrate techniques from a genomic to an ecosystem level, using a range of new and emerging technologies.

Molecular Ecology and Epidemiology

A major area of research within the Section is concerned with studies on the molecular ecology and epidemiology of a variety of parasites and parasitic diseases. These include parasites such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Toxoplasma, Trypanosoma, Leishmania, Blastocystis, Echinococcus, Taenia, and Ancylostoma. The emphasis of this research is the development and application of appropriate molecular tools in defined endemic foci in order to better understand parasite transmission, and correlating molecular data with traditional parasitological characteristics and epidemiological data with a view to controlling parasitic diseases. Such research also provides valuable genetic data that contributes to a better understanding of the evolutionary biology and taxonomy of the parasites which is an important area of interest.

Parasite Zoonoses

The Parasitology Section is currently involved in a number of projects aimed at identifying the zoonotic potential, cycles of transmission and risk factors associated with a number of parasites. This research includes studies on pig-associated parasite zoonoses in Laos; the zoonotic significance of canine Giardia infections in Australia, Europe, USA, Canada and SE Asia; enteric parasite zoonoses in rural villages in North Vietnam; emerging issues with Trypanosoma and Leishmania in Australia; the zoonotic significance of Ancylostoma ceylanicum in Australia and SE Asia; echinococcosis in Canada; Blastocystis in wildlife. These studies are all ongoing and involve a network of collaborators throughout the world. The application of appropriate molecular tools is a feature of these projects.

Anti-Parasite Drug Discovery

The Parasitology Section is an international drug screening centre and as such has developed in vitro and in vivo assays for determining drug activity against a large number of parasites, as well as drug toxicity. Parasites categorized as causative agents of neglected diseases are our prime focus, including Trypanosoma brucei (Sleeping Sickness/HAT), T. cruzi (Chagas disease), Leishmania spp., (Leishmaniasis), and Plasmodium (Malaria), as well as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Toxoplasma, Neospora and Echinococcus. In collaboration with Epichem the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), and the Centre for Drug Candidate Optimisation (CDCO) at Monash University exciting new leads have been developed to treat Chagas Disease and Sleeping Sickness.

Wildlife Parasitology

The Parasitology Section has a growing interest in wildlife parasitology. This is primarily concerned with investigating the diversity, taxonomy, distribution and ecology of key parasites, and their impact on the survival and reproductive capabilities of rare and endangered native species. This research is undertaken in collaboration with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DPaW) and Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWA). One of our main areas of research focuses on the impact of parasites on translocated and captive bred animals, and how infection affects post-translocation success. Our other areas of research focus on the diversity of parasites and host-parasite associations, including the evolutionary history of Toxoplasma and the distribution and genetic diversity of Giardia, Trypanosoma, and Leishmania spp. in Australian wildlife, and the role wildlife play as potential reservoirs for emerging and zoonotic infections in the face of an ever expanding human population. The Section also plays a key role on the Woylie Disease Reference Council. In addition to studies in Australia, the Parasitology Section is involved in a number of international collaborative studies. These include: parasites of the painted dog in Africa, which also involves comparative studies on captive populations in Australia; the molecular epidemiology of Giardia infections in Canadian wildlife with emphasis on Arctic fauna; the impact of enteric protozoan infections in non-human primates in Africa and zoo populations in Europe and Australia.

The Host-Parasite Interface

The establishment of strong collaborative links with Proteomics International, the Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis at the University of Western Australia, and the Department of Biology at the University of Calgary has resulted in the establishment of a productive area of research on the nature of activities at the interface between the parasite and its host. Research on Cryptosporidium at the ultrastructural level has not only revealed that the parasite is principally extracellular and that its association with the host cell is similar to that of primitive gregarine protozoa, but has also demonstrated novel life cycle stages. Investigations involving molecular and microscopical approaches have also provided novel insights into the relationship between Cryptosporidium and biofilms that in turn have helped to increase our understanding about the parasite’s life cycle and development. With Giardia, characterisation of the proteome of different species of the parasite is opening up new avenues for investigation into the mechanisms of pathogenesis in Giardia infections.