A research study to help increase understanding of melioidosis has been given the go-ahead in a bid to improve potential treatment options for this emerging infectious disease.

Melioidosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, which is found in soil and water. The disease is closely associated with high rainfall and has various presentations, from chronic to acute disease and rapid death due to systemic disease and septic shock.

Endemic in the tropics, particularly NE Thailand and northern Australia, melioidosis is considered to be an under-reported tropical disease which, due to continued climate change, is expected to expand south.

The $1.35m research project is a bilateral arrangement enabling research collaboration between the United States and Australia.

Funded by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate and coordinated by the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), it is being jointly undertaken by Griffith’s Institute for Glycomics, Menzies School of Health Research, PathWest and

James Cook University.

The two-year research study on this significant pathogen will place a particular focus on the severe manifestation of neurological melioidosis.

“We will be aiming to associate genetic signatures common to Burkholderia strains that represent the highest disease potential,” said Professor Ifor Beacham who is leading the Griffith component of the project.

“We will also determine whether different Burkholderia strains vary in their threat

potential to human health, and examine inhalation of the bacteria, which is the

potentially most dangerous route of infection.”

Co-researcher Dr Ian Peak said understanding the route of infection with melioidosis was imperative in the development of a vaccine for the disease.

“It will help us to further understand the genetic differences of Burkholderia which

lead to presentations such as severe neurological melioidosis.”

In overseeing the project, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is fulfilling its mission to support Australian industry and academic organisations by assisting their integration with US agencies and enhancing their research and knowledge sharing.