Infection and Immunity

Discovering how the microbial world impacts the macro-world we live in

Infection and Immunity at UWA studies microorganisms and the innate immune systems of animals. Our staff are internationally renowned for their research, and collaborate nationally and internationally.

Our team includes Professor Barry Marshall who, along with Dr Robin Warren, received the Nobel prize in 2005 for discovering that the Helicobacter pylori infection causes stomach ulcers.

Microbiology covers the broader concept of micro-organisms in healthy living systems such as environmental ecosystems (terrestrial and aquatic) in addition to agriculture and biotechnology.

We also study the emerging role of the microbiome in the development of healthy immune responses.

Our specialist research areas include:

  • Molecular pathogenesis of infectious agents – identifying factors necessary for invasive disease
  • Genomic epidemiology of infectious diseases – the investigation and reconstruction of communicable disease outbreaks using the whole genome sequences of isolates collected from patients
  • Medical counter measures to infectious disease – developing novel medical counter measures including the use of natural products and inhibitors of virulence properties of pathogens that supplement traditional treatment therapies
  • Microbiomes in health and disease – Understanding the nature and source of the microbiome at the start of life
  • Diagnostics – procedures to confirm, or determine the presence of disease in an individual suspected of having the disease, usually following the report of symptoms, or based on the results of other medical tests
  • Immunology – looking at immunity and related medicine and biology

Stopping the spread of meningococcal

The role of microorganisms in our lives is incredibly diverse, from priming our childhood immune system for a healthy life, to causing minor infections or severe outcomes and death. Understanding the balance between these extremes will improve healthy living.Charlene Kahler, Associate Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences

How to win a Nobel Prize


The Infection and Immunity division is also working on a number of different research projects, including those outlined below.
Helicobacter pylori population genomics, antibiotic resistance, and epidemiology studies

Our Helicobacter Research Laboratory studies the gastric bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, and collects pylori strains from patients.

We monitor antibiotic resistance to pylori, and the success rate of eradicating H. pylori from different antibiotic regimen.

By sequencing the genomes of H. pylori and studying its evolution to identify the mutations that contribute to antibiotic resistance, we have become world-leaders in Helicobacter pylori research.

We have a very high success rate in culturing and isolating H. pylori, and have developed a successful personalised treatment regimen for multidrug resistant H. pylori strains.

For more information, visit the Helicobacter Research Foundation website.

Metagenomics approach for anorexia research, translation and evaluation

Anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric disorder with severe biological consequences including extreme weight loss and malnutrition.

Previous studies have highlighted links between intestinal microbiota and bacterial metabolites with body weight dysregulation and behavioural changes.

Our project aims to employ whole genome shotgun sequencing to allow the simultaneous study of the potential roles of bacterial and eukaryotic microbiota in anorexia nervosa.

Functional attributes of the intestinal microbiome in anorexia nervosa will be analysed to understand their role in the disease development.

We expect that our eventual results will provide critical information on the role of the intestinal microbiota in the presentation of anorexia nervosa and ultimately guide the development of new clinical interventions to improve treatment outcome.

The Noisy Guts Project

The Noisy Guts Project is dedicated to developing a wearable acoustic belt for the accurate and non-invasive diagnosis of gastrointestinal disorders.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects 11% of the world’s population and causes pain, bloating and altered bowel habits.

Currently, there is no specific diagnostic test for IBS but guidelines suggest patients can be diagnosed based on symptoms. However, in practice, doctors typically exclude all other conditions through invasive tests like colonoscopies. These are costly, uncomfortable and carry risks, and still do not provide a positive IBS diagnosis.

The team have used specialist signal processing and machine learning techniques to identify bowel sound features typical of IBS.

More information is available on our website.

Efficacy and characterisation of natural anti-leishmanial compounds

Leishmaniasis is a neglected disease afflicting millions of people around the world and resulting in severe scaring, deformities, high morbidity and death.

Given the drugs currently used are toxic and difficult to administer, there is a need for the development of new safe alternatives.

This project will test a number of naturally derived compounds and inhibitors for their efficacy against Leishmania parasites.

Bacteriophage biology and use in phage therapy

Bacteriophages (phages) are viruses of bacteria with two major roles. They can carry bacterial genes and, through processes termed transduction and phage conversion, they can add new virulence traits to a microorganism.

Bacteriophages can either replicate in bacterial cells and not cause cell death or they can cause bacterial death and lysis once they have completed their replicative cycle.

Lytic phages are useful agents for novel medical counter measures (phage therapy) against antibiotic resistant bacteria and are proposed to be useful probiotics to prevent colonisation of a patient with a pathogen.

Phages in Neisseria sp, Moraxella catarrhalis and Group B streptococcus are currently under investigation in multiple research projects within the Infection and Immunity division.

Our centres

Contact Associate Professor Charlene Kahler, School of Biomedical Sciences