MCM Blog

Q Fever: a very consequential query

https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-cows-735968/

By Dr Felicia Pradera and Miss Madeleine Walters 

Q fever has recently generated a significant amount of nationwide attention with the rise of farm lobby campaigns for access to the Q fever vaccination and the development of a Q fever National Taskforce. Nonetheless, in the medical countermeasures domain, Q fever has long been of niche interest to scientific researchers.

Q fever was first described in Queensland in 1935. It was dubbed ‘query fever’ as the symptoms were non-specific, consisting of malaise, fever, headache and chills. Infection is caused by the pathogen C.burnetii, commonly transmitted to humans through contact with contaminated agricultural products or exposure to infected livestock.

C.burnetii is highly infectious because of its small inoculum size, meaning only 1.18 bacterial particles of C.burnetii are needed to develop a Q fever infection. The bacteria can also survive for a long time in soil or dust, due to its ability to adapt to harsh environmental conditions, thus increasing the risk of infection. This also means it can travel considerable distances when dispersed by wind, increasing the spread of infection. Due to this high infectivity and the ability C.burnetii has to cause such indiscriminate but serious flu-like symptoms – making it hard to discern from other viral infections such as influenza – it has been listed as a Category B Biological Threat Agent by the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Q fever has the potential to pose an equally significant threat to public health as it does to the health of military personnel in endemic regions.

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Posted by Walters Maddy on February 19th, 2020

Taking up the AMR fight

By Miss Emily Kibble, PhD Candidate at Murdoch University

My PhD researches the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis. This bacterium causes the fatal invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) which manifests as an infection of the blood or infection of the lining of the brain. One in ten adults are known to carry this bacterium in their throat at any given time. Transmission from human to human occurs through close contact, therefore infection rates are higher in close living quarters, such as military barracks. Once this bacterium spreads to a susceptible person, symptoms begin within a matter of hours, and death can quickly follow (in almost half of all cases). One in five survivors will suffer from disabilities such as limb loss and brain damage. Even with an existing vaccine, the rates of IMD in Australia are scarily on the rise, with 2017 seeing the highest rates of disease in ten years. As this bacterium is becoming increasingly resistant to current antibiotic treatments, looking into different approaches to overcome antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is essential.

My research investigates the impact of targeting a group of proteins, known as macrophage infectivity potentiator (Mip) proteins. When Mip proteins are inhibited, the ability of N. meningitidis to cause disease is suppressed. Therefore, a medical countermeasure (MCM) which targets Mip proteins should

• disarm the bacteria,
• interfere with the progression of disease, and, potentially,
• allow previously ineffective antibiotics to be used again.

These Mip proteins expressed by N. meningitidis are also expressed by a range of disease-causing bacteria, such as the biothreat agents, Coxiella burnetii, which causes Q fever, and Burkholderia pseudomallei which causes melioidosis. The potential of a new broad-spectrum treatment led to the current DMTC collaborative project headed by the University of Western Australia with Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group, the Peter Doherty Institute and the University of Wurzburg. It centres on targeting these Mip proteins and encompasses a range of bacteria which are of concern to both the Australian Defence Force and public health authorities, with the aim to develop a new MCM that can be used against a number of bacterial diseases.

A pathogen does not care if you are wearing a uniform or not

The overlap of risk to Defence and public health is due to the fact that bacteria do not discriminate, and nor does AMR. Any person, Defence personnel or otherwise, can become infected, and these infections are becoming harder to kill.

AMR is the ability of a bacteria to resist treatment. Using antibiotics when they are not necessary, or not completing your prescribed course of antibiotics, give bacteria the opportunity to mutate and become resistant. By 2050, the rates of AMR bacteria will have risen to such high numbers that a predicted 10 million deaths will occur each year across the globe. Resistant bacteria will make some infections impossible to treat, and make minor injuries and medical procedures life threatening.

The population of Australia will particularly suffer, as the use of antibiotics – the main cause of AMR – is higher in Australia than most other countries in the world. While the threat posed to Australia is increasing, most new drugs are modifications of previously existing antibiotics, and can only be relied on as short-term solutions. Investment and support from commercial drug makers for the development of truly novel MCMs is inconsistent. This is due largely to the small market that could constrain the return on investment, long lead times and lack of certainty of success in drug development pipelines, as well as the restrictions on future development imposed by governments.

Australia’s Department of Health has acknowledged that increased support is required for the research and development of new approaches and products to combat AMR.

More effective, long-term, medical countermeasures against AMR are becoming an increasingly urgent national requirement. Enhanced capability to combat bacterial infections, particularly as these infections become resistant to the current available treatments, is vital for the future health of the Australian population as well as better-equipped and protected Defence forces.

Posted by Walters Maddy on February 7th, 2020

Medical Countermeasures

By Dr Gregor Ferguson 

The 2016 Defence White Paper was significant for a number of reasons but for Dr Felicia Pradera, Program Manager Medical Countermeasures within DST’s Land Division at Fishermans Bend it was ground-breaking. For the first time its inclusion reflected both an official acknowledgement that medical countermeasures were a critical defence requirement, and funding from the Next Generation- Technology Fund (NGTF) would be allocated to develop this national capability.

Medical countermeasures (MCM) are vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics against Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) threats, emerging infectious diseases and pandemics. It has been said that a CBR threat does not care whether you are wearing a military uniform or not. Therefore MCMs have relevance to both civilian and military personnel making it a national security issue. (more…)

Posted by Walters Maddy on November 1st, 2019

National Innovation Award Land Forces Conference: Diagnosis at Point of Care

© Lumos Diagnostics

By Mr Harry Baxter

A DMTC project team leading advances in the development of a field-deployable, handheld Point of Care diagnostic device has been honoured with a National Innovation Award in the Combat Equipment and Mobility category at the international Land Forces 2018 Exposition.

The project involves industry partners Lumos Diagnostics, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Victorian medical technology firm Planet Innovation, and Queensland-based Anteo Technologies with support from research partner Deakin University. (more…)

Posted by Walters Maddy on November 1st, 2019

Tackling the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance

By Dr Felicia Pradera and Ms Madeleine Walters

Whether Australia is adequately prepared for a future pandemic should be a key issue on our national agenda. Over the past few years, antimicrobial resistance has become an area of growing concern for our health security. According to the OECD, Australia is particularly vulnerable as our antibiotic usage is significantly higher than the organisation’s average.

The OECD has estimated that nearly 10% of infections in Australia are antimicrobial resistant and that an average of 290 people die each year due to multidrug-resistant bacterial infections. It forecasts that this number is likely to grow significantly in coming years. (more…)

Posted by Walters Maddy on October 31st, 2019