Associate Professor Torsten Seemann wins WHO Western Pacific Region Innovation Challenge for the creation of AusTrakka

University of Melbourne Associate Professor Torsten Seemann has won the World Health O

University of Melbourne Associate Professor Torsten Seemann has won the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific Innovation Challenge for his work leading the development of AusTrakka, Australia’s national pathogen genomics surveillance platform.

Innovators were called upon by WHO to submit their solutions to better the health and wellbeing of people in the Western Pacific Region.

AusTrakka, an initiative of the Communicable Diseases Genomics Network (CDGN) is a platform designed to enable real-time sharing, analysis and reporting of pathogen genomic data across all states and territories.  

AusTrakka is currently being used by CDGN public health laboratories for rapid sharing and analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences to track and trace the virus across Australia and New Zealand.

Behind the concept are Associate Professor Torsten Seeman, Lead Bioinformatician, and Dr Anders Goncalves da Silva, from the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory at the Doherty Institute.

“Back in 2014 I attended a conference and learnt about the GenomeTrackr Network led by the US Food and Drug Administration, which was set up to share genome sequence data of foodborne pathogens from across states to one central repository for joint analysis to track outbreaks,” says Associate Professor Seemann.

“I thought to myself, ‘this is what Australia needs’, as we have a similar state-based system here. There had to be an easier way to share sequencing data.”

Winning the COVID-19 Innovation category, AusTrakka was rapidly deployed during the pandemic with an endorsed and agreed governance framework for its use across jurisdictions, demonstrating the platform’s ability to have immediate impact in the response to COVID-19.

“It’s fantastic that AusTrakka has been recognised as a relevant and useful tool during the COVID-19 response,” says Associate Professor Seemann.

“While SARS-CoV-2 was the pathogen to demonstrate the use platform, it is pathogen-agnostic and could be applied to track and trace other priority pathogens of public health concern, including antimicrobial resistance.”

In recent months, AusTrakka has expanded its capacity for the genomics investigation of other public health priority pathogens such as Salmonella, facilitated through the CDGN and the Australian Pathogen Genomics Program.

WHO states that the Innovation Challenge is an opportunity to create an ecosystem of innovators who have sustainable, cost-effective, and inclusive solutions that can address public health needs in the Western Pacific Region.

Associate Professor Seemann along with other Innovation Challenge winners will discuss their solutions in more detail at the 2022 WHO Innovation Forum in the Western Pacific Region: Scaling for Impact, hosted online this week. Register to join the forum on 28 - 29 April at 9:30 AM (Manila Time, GMT +8) via Zoom.