Unlocking the Science of Rickettsiology

We are processing live ticks in our laboratory for the detection of human pathogens.  We currently know that there are a number of agents that can cause disease but we are interested in identifying and characterising those agents that haven’t been previously recognised.  Some of these agents include species of Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, Babesia and Borrelia.
This is a project where the general public and assist our laboratory.  We are actively seeking the sending of alive ticks to our laboratory.  Ticks and be transported in small secure containers with a moist (not wet) tissue paper.  The tissue paper only requires one or two drops of water, too much and humidity in the container rises to a point which is favourable for fungal grow and detrimental to the ticks.

Tick Collecting

Tick Collecting

Genetic typing of Q fever isolates

Q fever is caused by Coxiella burnetii and is a zoonosis (transmitted  from animals to humans).  It is usually transmitted via aerosals in high-risk areas including close proximity to infected animals.  It is important to be able to characterise a particular isolate as this will provide a useful tool for the epidemiology and geographical localisation of particular strains.  Currently we have over 50 isolates and are evaluating various molecular typing techniques.

In an effort to gain a better understanding of the potential pathogens in ticks we attempt the isolation of these agents in cell culture.  We take the blood from infected patients and place it in cell culture.  The assay is monitored periodically for an isolate which is characterised if identified.  We actively looking for rickettsial species, Borrelia, Ehrlichia and Anaplasma species.

Cell culture of intracellular bacteria

Cell culture of intracellular bacteria

Q fever vaccine development

The current human Q fever vaccine, although very effective, is tedious in its prevaccination protocol requiring both a skin and antibody test prior to its administration.  We are looking at ways of developing an improved version that will be simple in its use and have an application for the global market.

We are also in the process of developing an autogenous C. burnetii vaccine that will be used in goats to suppress their sheading of this agent and ultimately reduce the risk of exposure to humans.
This vaccine is being manufactured by amplifying the bacteria in embryonated eggs, which is then harvested, purified and inactivated prior to its use.  If successful, this has the potential to be licensed  for use in other animals including cows and sheep.

C. burnetii animal vaccine

C. burnetii animal vaccine

Debilitating Symptom Complexes Attributed To Ticks

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) will provide $1.9 million to fund a four-year project including our laboratory,  Murdoch University and other collaborators. It will aim to identify the causes of an illness currently known as DSCATT (Debilitating Symptom Complexes Attributed To Ticks) and previously described as a Lyme-like disease.

The research will provide evidence to assist with the proper diagnosis of patients presenting with DSCATT and provide data on the spectrum of DSCATT symptoms.  The research team will study blood samples, skin biopsies and ticks collected from patients who present to emergency departments and GP clinics with tick bites across Australia over the next three years. 

For more information


As a not-for-profit organisation we fund our research through the profit raised in our diagnostic service.  This means that we are mostly self-funded.  However, funding is tight and to keep our research ticking over and would be grateful for any donations (All donations are tax deductible).  If you require a receipt please leave us a message with your donation.  Your support is greatly appreciated and your money is going to a great cause.