UOW researcher awarded $1 million NHMRC funding to focus on deadly Strep A bacteria

UOW researcher awarded $1 million NHMRC funding to focus on deadly Strep A bacteria

Research to uncover what influences the severity of bacterial infection

University of Wollongong’s Associate Professor Martina Sanderson-Smith, has been awarded more than $1 million over three years for innovative research into the Group A Streptococcus (Strep A) bacteria, through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)  Ideas Grants scheme.

Strep A is a common bacterial infection which, in most cases, causes a mild illness. However, in some people, Strep A infection can cause more serious illness such as scarlet fever, meningitis, toxic shock syndrome, rheumatic heart disease or sepsis. It ranks among the top 10 infectious disease killers globally.

Recently a new variant of Strep A expressing a novel set of bacterial toxins has emerged in the United Kingdom (M1UK), which has been associated with an increase in invasive disease and severe illness. Several children in the UK have died from illnesses caused by the new variant.

The M1UK variant has been detected in Australia with increasing frequency.

Associate Professor Sanderson-Smith’s team will seek to define the disease mechanisms underlying this new threat to global health. 

“We are trying to understand how this lineage is producing the novel set of toxins that allow it to cause such serious disease and understand why it seems to be causing higher rates of infection than other Strep A lineages,” Associate Professor Sanderson-Smith said.

“Funding this research will enable us to better understand why some Strep A infections lead to a mild infection, while others can be deadly.

“We will be better able to inform national and international health authorities about the virulence and transmission potential of this important new Strep A lineage and identify drug targets for novel anti-infective strategies.”

The project has been funded through the NHMRC Ideas Grants, which are designed to support innovative research by early- and mid-career researchers for projects that address a specific question with national or global significance. The grants are designed to sponsor health and medical research from discovery to implementation

Dr Stephan Brouwer from the University of Queensland and Associate Professor Jai Tree from University of NSW will collaborate on the research.