A team of Griffith University researchers has received more than $1 million to find new vaccine targets for diseases which cause meningitis, gonorrhoea and middle ear infections.

“I want to understand everything I can about these diseases so people don’t have to suffer unnecessarily,” Gold Coast’s Institute for Glycomics researcher, Dr Kate Seib, said.

“Meningococcal disease is very hard to detect and can kill in less than six hours. You want a vaccine so you don’t have to rely on correct and fast diagnosis”.

Dr Seib said while gonorrhoea, a sexually transmitted infection, was not commonly talked about it infects 106 million people a year worldwide and is associated with infertility and increased transmission of HIV.

“There is currently no vaccine for gonorrhoea and we are on our last option of antibiotics due to antibiotic resistance so it is essential we put money and time in this before it becomes an untreatable problem.”

Dr Kate Seib said it was essential projects which explore these diseases were funded as they affect such a large number of people worldwide.

The research grants from the prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council will fund two key projects, which will be conducted with Dr Chris Day and Dr John Attack.

One project, titled ‘The glyco-interactome of pathogenic Neisseria: understanding disease and defining vaccine targets,’ has received $436,012 and the other, titled ‘Phasevarion mediated virulence mechanisms of the human pathogens Moraxella catarrhalis and non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae’ received $641,979.

The Institute for Glycomics received a total of $4.17 million for five projects and two fellowships, which explore various bacteria and their infection pathways, and viruses that have long-term health impacts such as arthritis. This is a 41.6 per cent success rate in the project grant scheme, which is three times the national average of 13.5 per cent.

Dr Seib’s first project explores Neisseria meningitidis, which causes meningitis and sepsis, together with Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes gonorrhoea. These bacteria cause very different diseases but come from the same family and share many common proteins.

The second project will explore the mechanisms that contribute to disease caused by the bacteria Moraxella catarrhalis and non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae, which are two major causes of middle ear infections in children and respiratory disease in adults.

Dr Seib said this research will aid vaccine development by defining the repertoire of stably expressed potential vaccine targets of these bacteria and will improve our understanding of how these bacteria are able to adapt to their host and avoid killing by the immune system. She said both these projects involved diseases that only infected humans.

“We need to develop vaccines for these diseases as it is essential to prevent them rather than just treat them,” she said.

Institute Director Professor Mark von Itzstein congratulated Dr Seib and her colleagues on their grant success and said it further confirmed the Institute’s reputation as a leading biomedical research institute.

“Our research is a brave new frontier and we are making exciting advances towards the discovery of new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for significant diseases,” he said.