Innovative Australian scientist Dr Ali Zaid has joined Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics to lead a project on Ross River Fever.

Dr Zaid is one of only a handful of scientists who have the skills and knowledge to capture real-time images of viruses and observe the life and the immune response deep within living tissue.

He will lead a world-first three-year research project that uses intravital multiphoton microscopy to track the mosquito-borne virus that affects thousands of people each year.

Institute for Glycomics Director Professor Mark von Itzstein said Dr Zaid’s move to join the research group of Professor Suresh Mahalingam’s team further strengthened the Institute’s research focus in infectious disease.

“Our research teams are made up of the best scientists from across the world and Dr Zaid’s expertise in intravital microscopy will allow us to continue our brave new frontier of research,” he said.

“His project accentuates our cutting-edge research initiatives which allow us to make exciting advances towards the discovery of new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for significant diseases.”

Dr Zaid moved from the University of Melbourne’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology under the auspices of Institute for Glycomics Professor Suresh Mahalingam, who has been making great steps in identifying a treatment for arthritogenic alphavirus infections, such as Ross River and Chikungunya fever.

“I have a rare skill and expertise in intravital imaging that I was able to hone at the University of Melbourne but now I am excited to apply it to a field that has never benefited from this technology, and I’m looking forward to answering some key questions on how these viruses cause disease,” he said.

“I find it fascinating that a virus can infect the skin then end up in a completely different area of the body to cause inflammation such as arthritis.

“I want to understand what happens to the immune system and how it responds to cause the inflammation because if we can target the mechanism by which the virus leaves the skin, we may be able to stop the inflammation from occurring in the joints and muscles.”

Dr Zaid’s project will map the journey of the virus from its initial infection through the skin from a mosquito right through to when it affects the joints and muscles.

Intravital multiphoton microscopy is a powerful technique used to observe biological systems in vivo and in real time. Key mechanisms of immune responses such as cell migration can be observed in living tissues.

The project is funded by a $491,503 research grant from the prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council. This project was one of five grants and two fellowships totalling $4.17 million that the Institute for Glycomics received. 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.

While most of Dr Zaid’s research will be conducted on the Gold Coast he will use intravital imaging equipment with collaborators at The Centenary Institute in Sydney. There are only nine laboratories in Australia that carry this particular type of imaging equipment. Intravital multiphoton imaging has never been used in a project through the Institute for Glycomics before.