Dr. Bialasiewicz has worked at the Royal Children's Hospital and now Children's Health Queensland HHS for over 17 years conducting translational research and clinical support centering on infectious disease molecular diagnostics, general microbiology and molecular epidemiology. Since 2019, he has shared his time between CHQ and ACE, expanding on a growing interest in the microbial ecology of the human body, it's role in health and disease, and ways to manipulated to achieve desirable outcomes. In particular, he is interested in leveraging emerging techniques to explore the hidden diversity of microorganisms which may not have been well characterised in particular body sites or have been missed due to limitations of traditional techniques.

Qualifications: 
2010, PhD (Microbiology), The University of Queensland
2003, MSc (Clinical Microbiology), Griffith University
2001, BA, dual-major (Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and Environmental, Population and Organismic Biology), The University of Colorado, Boulder
Research Interests: 
Development of Phage Therapy to Combat Chronic Otitis Media in Indigenous Children

Chronic Otitis Media (OM) is the main driver of preventable hearing loss in Indigenous children. Prevention of ear infections can have a dramatic effect at reducing rates of early childhood hearing loss in remote and regional Indigenous communities, leading to improved education and quality of life outcomes. Unfortunately, liberal use of antibiotics from infancy and vaccinations have not improved auditory health. Thus, new approaches to treating and preventing chronic OM, including the use of phage therapeutics, need to be considered.

Phage therapy is the use of viruses which infect and kill their bacterial host. Phages show high bacterial strain specificity, have the ability to penetrate and disrupt biofilm, and have been safely and successfully used in a number of clinical trials against hard to treat infections. They have also been shown to establish a form of latent protection through their presence in the mucosal lining.

Unfortunately, no phages are currently available for use in targeting the three key chronic OM pathogens. Developing a viable phage therapy strategy to ultimately prevent hearing loss in Indigenous children will require several steps, including discovery and evaluation, clinical trials and implementation. In this study proposal, we aim to address the first steps by discovering, characterizing and evaluating naturally occurring phages and determining their therapeutic potential against two existing sample banks of bacterial isolates collected from Indigenous children suffering from OM. In particular, we will identify novel phages that are capable of infecting the widest range of bacterial strains through phage plaque assays, characterise both the bacterial and viral genomes, determine if there is antibacterial synergy between the selected phages and commonly used antibiotics, and assess any unexpected off-target effects on the healthy microbiome through viral tagging and single-cell sequencing.

Do bacteriophages increase pathogenicity of Pseudomonas infections in children with cystic fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis (CF) patients acquire Pseudomonas bacterial infections in the lungs from an early age. These recurring infections become progressively harder to treat, leading to chronic infections that decrease the health and lifespan of affected patients. Recently, a
bacteria-infecting virus was discovered which makes Pseudomonas infections more tolerant
to antibiotics and harder to kill by the immune system, thereby leading to more severe
disease. Remarkably, mice vaccinated against this virus were able to eliminate previously
chronic Pseudomonas infections. The presence of the virus is unknown within Australian CF
patients, especially in children.

This project aims to use new genomic methods to look for
this and other related viruses in Queensland CF children, and determine if their presence
can be used as prognostic markers for poor health outcomes as well as potential targets for
future vaccines. The ultimate goal is to prevent or delay the onset of these difficult chronic
infections.

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