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Queensland a world leader in drug discovery as citizen scientists help fight superbugs

Groundwork undertaken on the Soils for Science initiative will underpin The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) as the international home for drug discovery according to Ash AmirShahi, IMB’s Research Partnership Manager.

Mr AmirShahi said Soils for Science is an Australian-first citizen science program which aims to find new antibiotics to combat drug-resistant superbugs.

“More than half of all antibiotics are developed from microbes found in soil and nature so the answer to the next superbug may be hiding in your backyard.

“Queensland is one of the most biodiverse environments in the world, spanning beaches, rainforests, wetlands and deserts. This vast, untapped landscape is ripe for the discovery of microbes to be developed into new antibiotics, anti-fungals and other medicines,” Mr AmirShahi said.

Professor Rob Capon, who founded the Soils for Science initiative, said it makes sense to harness the power of science-loving Queenslanders, from young kids to PhD graduates, to collect 100,000 soil samples.

“We want this foray by citizen scientists to help IMB become the world’s largest living data bank library of bacteria and fungi, to ultimately produce life-saving antibiotics.

“We want our researchers to be overwhelmed with choice when it comes to microbial and chemical biodiversity.

“It’s so simple for our citizen science ambassadors to get involved.  Just fill out the registration form at soilsforscience.org.au an download the Soils for Science app from the Apple or Android stores,” Professor Capon said.

Mr AmirShahi said while it is early days for the Soils for Sciences initiative, IMB research is more advanced in exploring spider, centipede and scorpion venoms to develop new drugs for nervous system disorders and insecticides.

“The venom of a species of spider Hadronyche infensa, found on Fraser Island (K’gari), contains peptides that have the potential to become a drug for nervous system disorders like pain, epilepsy, and stroke,” he said.

Professor Glenn King said the research has far reaching effects as chronic pain is the biggest unresolved medical condition in the world and stroke is the second leading cause of death.

“Spider venoms contain over 10 million different bioactive peptides.  Having previously taken to market in the US an eco-friendly bioinsecticide based on venom-derived peptide chemistry, I’m well aware of the treasure trove of new molecules contained in venom.,” Professor King said.

Mr AmirShahi said IMB’s great strength is harnessing early-stage concepts such as Soils for Science, backing the power of venoms research opportunities, right through to the commercialisation of inflammasome inhibitors through UQ start-up Inflazome Ltd, which was recently acquired by international pharmaceutical company Roche for over $600 million upfront plus milestones.

Professor Kate Schroder, Director, IMB Centre for Inflammation and Disease Research said the discovery of the inflammasome has redefined the molecular and cellular processes of inflammation.

“During injury or infection, our body’s immune system protects us by launching inflammation.  But uncontrolled inflammation drives diseases such as gout, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease and cancer.

“To fight human diseases, our new pharmacological approaches inhibit inflammasome-driven inflammation, which is key to the maintenance of good human health and why Roche has acquired UQ start-up company, Inflazome,” Professor Schroder said.

Mr AmirShahi said IMB is a place where drug discovery and cures begin.

“Formed in 2000, our goal is to create a better future by making breakthrough discoveries to improve health and wellbeing through multidisciplinary life sciences research.

“I’m so proud of our work as a generator of new knowledge from Soils for Science through to the commercialisation of technologies such as the inflammasome inhibitors. With a current patent estate comprising 34 patent families and 11 spin-outs to our name, we have a strong record of economic development, impact and innovation,” Mr AmirShahi said.

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Ash Amirshahi Research Partnership Manager
The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience