Genomic epidemiology of Neisseria gonorrhoeae

Identifying drug sensitive N. gonorrhoeae isolates to improve disease detection

Neisseria gonorrhoeae (N. gonorrhoeae), also known as gonococcus, is the causative agent of gonorrhoea and one of the most common causes of bacterial-associated sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Globally, it’s estimated there are 78 million new infections each year of gonorrhoeae, and of these, 35 million cases of N. gonorrhoea occur within the Western Pacific Region of the world, including Australia.

Communities living in remote regions of the Northern Territory and Western Australia have the highest notification rate of gonorrhoea in Australia. The Australian Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for three per cent of the total population but they represent 30 per cent of people living in remote areas, most notably in the NT and WA.

In 2015, gonorrhoeae notifications were reported to be 959 per 100,000 people living in the remote WA Kimberley region, compared to 85 per 100,000 for the whole of WA.

Our recent work indicates there are genetic lineages of strains, unique to Australia, circulating in remote communities.

With this knowledge, we are developing point-of-care diagnostic tests to identify these drug sensitive isolates, improving our ability to detect antimicrobial resistance in these communities.

Project details

The technique we are using for this project is genomic epidemiology, a term given to the investigation and reconstruction of communicable disease outbreaks using whole genome sequences of isolates collected from patients.

A comparison of the sequences is then carried out across large datasets, including those not involved in the outbreak, providing a rapid means of identifying strains or clones associated with the outbreak.

This process can also be used to identify any new genetic determinants associated with improved transmission or pathogenicity and virulence, providing baseline data for the development of improved diagnostic tests.

Our main goal for this project is to gather a thorough understanding of the epidemiology of N. gonorrhoea in remote communities of Western Australia.

The research team lead for this project is head of UWA’s Infection and Immunity Division, Associate Professor Charlene Kahler, who is working with funding assistance from the West Australian Department of Health.

PhD opportunities

If you are a student interested in the areas of bacterial pathogenesis and immunity, this project could be suited to your studies.

PhD students require a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and immunology and an honours degree in microbiology or related disciplines, such as molecular biology, biochemistry, chemistry or genetics.

Students with a master’s degree should have completed their studies in a related discipline area such as pharmacy, biotechnology or infectious diseases.

Contact Associate Professor Charlene Kahler