Deakin and Barwon Health partner in new centre for disease research

Media release

07 December 2022

A new Geelong-based research centre will contribute to global efforts to prevent, control and treat infectious and immune-related diseases, including COVID-19, Buruli Ulcer, malaria and asthma.

The Centre for Innovation in Infectious Disease and Immunology Research (CIIDIR) is an initiative of the Deakin University and Barwon Health partnership. It will build on existing strengths in human infectious disease, microbiome and immunology research, linking to a national network to enhance the response to emerging and existing infectious disease threats locally and globally.

CIIDIR will be led by Professor of Systems Epidemiology of Infection, Alyssa Barry, and Barwon Health Clinical Director of the Public Health and Health Service Partnerships Directorate and Professor of Infectious Diseases, Eugene Athan.

Professor Barry said CIIDIR would improve cross-disciplinary collaboration on locally relevant and internationally important research.

"CIIDIR will harness collective capabilities to strengthen and build links with external partners as a 'Hub of Research Excellence' in population-based infectious disease, microbiome and immunology research," Professor Barry said.

"It will link previously disparate research areas, leveraging laboratory, population-based and clinical research strengths and provide new opportunities for transdisciplinary collaborations."

Professor Athan said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the enormous risk infectious diseases pose to global health and stability.

"As the pandemic took hold in 2020, initiatives such as the Deakin-Barwon Health COVID-19 Research Taskforce highlighted the collective power of infectious diseases expertise in Geelong," Professor Athan said.

"Several high-profile infectious diseases researchers, clinicians and public health practitioners rapidly mobilised to establish a COVID-19 Observational Cohort Study and to develop transdisciplinary research projects.

"Throughout the same period, Deakin and Barwon Health have increased capacity in microbiome and immunology research. There is an opportunity to capitalise on the population health and laboratory capacity to strengthen these areas further and to complement nutrition and mental health research in the building."

Among CIIDIR's major areas of research are:

COVID-19: CIIDIR researchers are leading a prospective cohort study of all COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases in the Barwon South West region. The study aims to understand the natural history, complications and immunity of COVID-19 cases in our region.

Buruli Ulcer: Supported by a $3 million NHMRC Partnership across Barwon Health, Deakin University, CSIRO and the University of Melbourne, the CIIDIR infectious disease research team leads several clinical studies and a large case control study to help identify the potential environmental and behavioural factors causing disease transmission.

Malaria: Supported by major grants from the NHMRC, DFAT and National Institutes of Health, USA, CIIDIR researchers are contributing to the global effort to eliminate malaria by investigating novel treatments, resistance to treatment and vaccines, and working with malaria-endemic countries to enhance surveillance and control efforts.

Childhood allergy & asthma: The Barwon Infant Study closely follows more than 1,000 Geelong mothers and their children, collecting samples and measurements to unlock the early origins of allergy and asthma and investigate the impact of the maternal and child immune systems on a range of conditions.

The Centre will work with and leverage established programs within Deakin including the Institute for Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Translation (IMPACT), the Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM), the Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI), the Institute for Health Transformation (IHT), the School of Medicine (SoM), the School of Health & Social Development (SHSD), the School of Life and Environmental Sciences (LES); and within Barwon Health including the Department of Infectious Diseases, the Barwon South West Public Health Unit (BSW PHU), the Adrian Costa Clinical Trials Centre and the Australian Rickettsial Reference Laboratory (ARRL).

The Centre will maintain strong linkages with existing partners through collaboration with Burnet Institute, CSIRO's Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) and Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI).

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Media release Faculty of Health, Faculty of Science Engineering and Built Environment, School of Medicine, School of Health and Social Development, School of Life and Environmental Sciences Innovation in Mental Physical and Clinical Treatment (IMPACT), Institute for Health Transformation (IHT), Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI), Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM)