Pathogenesis determinants in hyper-virulent Neisseria meningitidis

Understanding meningococcal disease for better prevention

Neisseria meningitidis, the causative agent of epidemic meningitis, is a significant global public health burden, with 1.2 million cases each year and an estimated fatality rate of 10 per cent. The disease is prevalent in Africa and Asia due to cyclical pandemics occurring on these continents every eight to 10 years. The disease is most common in the less than four years old and 15-29 age brackets, with very low incidences in other age brackets.

Early stages of the disease mimic viral infections such as influenza, making it difficult to quickly identify those who have been infected. Because of this, vaccination is currently the most effective option for the control of the disease.

A recent outbreak of meningococcal disease, with serogroup W strains, led to six deaths in two years in Western Australia. The genomic epidemiology of these outbreaks in our state has indicated these isolates are resistant to penicillin and have the genetic fingerprints of a new hyper-virulent clade.

The aim of this study is to examine the characteristics of these isolates to determine what changes in virulence has occurred to result in this new clade. Our overall goal is to understand the development of hyper-virulence in Neisseria meningitidis.

The research team lead for this project is Head of the Infection and Immunity Division at UWA’s School of Biomedical Sciences, Associate Professor Charlene Kahler.

Stopping the spread of invasive meningococcal disease

PhD opportunities


Research projects on this topic are available in the areas of bacterial pathogenesis and immunity.

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

Students who have completed a master’s degree should have completed the degree within related discipline areas such as pharmacy, biotechnology or infectious diseases.


For more information on our research, see the below readings:

Contact Associate Professor Charlene Kahler