Pathogen genomics in focus

Key takeaways from AusPathoGen symposium

The Australian Pathogen Genomics Program (AusPathoGen), a national MRFF-funded research program led by University of Melbourne’s Professor Benjamin Howden, Director of the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit (MDU) Public Health Laboratory at the Doherty Institute, recently held its second annual symposium at the State Library Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

Welcoming over 100 attendees from across Australia and New Zealand, the hybrid event marked the halfway point of the AusPathoGen program which aims to address the rise in infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Australia.

In the first half of the symposium, researchers highlighted the collaborative outputs of three flagship projects investigating Salmonella enterica, Shigella spp. and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. One of the highlights was the interesting observations they shared related to potential cross-jurisdictional transmission clusters across these pathogen groups, including those composed of multi-drug resistant strains. These findings are set to be published next year.

Following this, lead researchers from most states and territories provided rapid introductions to the projects on invasive Group A Streptococcus, invasive pneumococcal disease, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida auris.

In-person attendees at State Library Victoria

The second half of the program was filled with robust discussions and timely presentations on national and global issues and initiatives that may impact the implementation of public health pathogen genomics. This included presentations from the Australia Government Department of Health and Aged Care, stressing the importance of pathogen genomics and the need to ‘retain and uplift’ existing systems such as AusTrakka, a platform designed to enable real-time sharing, analysis and reporting of pathogen genomic data across public health labs. These considerations are integral to the development of the Australian Centre for Disease Control and to the role pathogen genomics plays in antimicrobial resistance and national public health surveillance, as captured by the National Microbial Genomics Framework and Australia’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy – 2020 and beyond.

To wrap up the event, Australian National University’s Professor Martyn Kirk, University of Melbourne’s Associate Professor Torsten Seemann, Lead Bioinformatician at the Centre for Pathogen Genomics, and University of Melbourne’s Tuyet Hoang, Portfolio Manager for Pathogen Genomics at the Doherty Institute, hosted two workshops on optimal funding models in Australia and the future of global data sharing for pathogen genomics.

Professor Howden noted the symposium provided a remarkable opportunity to foster collaboration and share collective insights with our partners from across Australia and New Zealand.

“Bringing together experts, researchers and professionals from far and wide was a powerful reminder of the extensive expertise and highly experienced workforce that exist in pathogen genomics, and who share our commitment to improve how we undertake communicable disease surveillance and outbreak response,” he said.
“On behalf of the AusPathoGen Executive Group, we were pleased to welcome our Australian Government colleagues who have been instrumental in progressing the integration of innovative technologies into public health laboratories and thank all our partners, both in academia and public health, who are contributing to this program.”

If you are interested in staying up to date with the AusPathoGen program and the latest activities, please sign up here.

Funding: The Australian Pathogen Genomics Project is funded by the Medical Research Future Fund as part of the Genomics Health Futures Mission (GHFM) Flagships - Pathogen Genomics grant opportunity.

Australian National University’s Professor Kathryn Glass, Evaluation Theme Co-Lead for AusPathoGen, answering a question about the economic evaluation model showcased during the session
Mr Jacob Madden, Assistant Secretary of the Australian Centre for Disease Control (CDC) Establishment Branch, presenting an overview of key priorities and progress to the interim Australian CDC
The University of Sydney’s Professor Ben Marais posing a question regarding the formation of the Australian CDC