Molecular Biology of Viruses

Program 1: Pathogens Associated with Stillbirth
Stillbirth is an enormous personal, family, community, and medical loss. Despite investigation by routine autopsy, ~30% of stillbirths are unexplained. We have detected cytomegalovirus (CMV) and other infectious agents in stillborn babies [Howard J, Hall B, Brennan L E, Arbuckle S, Craig M E, Graf N, Rawlinson W (2009) Utility of newborn screening cards for detecting CMV infection in cases of stillbirth. Journal Clinical Virology 44:215-218].

This project will investigate the proportion of stillbirths where viruses, cell-wall deficient bacteria and anaerobic organisms are present, demonstrate the location of the infecting agent/s from the placenta and tissues from stillborn babies and investigate the host protein changes associated with CMV infection and transplacental transmission of CMV.

Project leader: Dr Jenna Iwasenko, Jenna.Iwasenko@sesiahs.health.nsw.gov.au

Program 2: Enteroviruses and Type I Diabetes
Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes (T1DM) is increasing rapidly in our community and we do not know why. Enteroviruses are the most common viruses affecting children and have been linked to childhood T1DM. We have found enterovirus infections are more common in children who develop diabetes associated autoantibodies (an early marker of diabetes) and at onset of T1DM, compared with controls. Little is known about the mechanism by which the viruses induce apoptosis and/or functional impairment of pancreatic ß-cells.

This study will investigate the molecular characteristics of enterovirus isolates in children at risk of developing diabetes and the abilities of enteroviruses to induce cellular and functional damage of ß-cells.

Project leader: A/Prof Maria Craig, m.craig@unsw.edu.au

Program 3: Clinical Molecular Diagnosis of Blood-borne Viruses’ Transmission
Research projects include the development and evaluation of real-time molecular techniques for the rapid characterisation of blood-borne viruses (HIV, HCV, HBV and CMV) and use of these tests in investigating cases of transmission, particularly in health-care settings, and tissue and organ transplantation.

Project leader: Dr Cristina Baleriola, cristina.baleriola@sesiahs.health.nsw.gov.au

Program 4: Respiratory Viruses
Respiratory infections are a common cause of illness and an important cause of death in the community. The recent outbreak of H1N1’09 virus (‘swine flu’) shows there is much to be understood about the transmission and containment of respiratory viruses. Using a novel method developed in collaboration with researchers at The Woolcock Institute and The University of Sydney, we collect viruses shed as aerosols from patients with chronic respiratory diseases suffering respiratory infections and detect these viruses using molecular assays. We are interested in using this method to examine:

  • Bio aerosol production over the time course of a natural infection with rhinovirus and/or influenza
  • The role of respiratory viruses in exacerbation of chronic airway diseases (e.g. asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis)
  • The prevalence of emerging respiratory viruses in the population

Project leader: Dr Sacha Stelzer-Braid, sacha.stelzer-braid@sesiahs.health.nsw.gov.au

BABS personnel responsible for this project:

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