Griffith University is ranked in the top three per cent of universities globally. It has 50,000 students, over 200,000 alumni and has a five star rating for graduate employability.
These are impressive numbers, yet it is what is happening behind the scenes that give Griffith University its unique position in the tertiary landscape.
In particular, Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics has positioned itself as a unique translational biomedical research facility and is in fact putting the Gold Coast on the map as a biotechnology hub that could one day rival major biotech hubs such as San Diego.
For those unfamiliar with the term, Glycomics is the study of carbohydrates, sugars that are found on and in every cell of our body.
The Institute for Glycomics, the only institute of its kind in Australia, is thus uniquely positioned. It collaborates with leading scientists and research institutes around the world to achieve its vision to bring forward novel diagnostics, drugs and vaccines to the community in the fight against disease.
Professor Mark von Itzstein is the Director, Institute for Glycomics.
He says that the glycome, the language of sugars, is as important as the genome (an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes).
“What we look at is what changes occur in the body when that language is taken advantage of in diseases. It is particularly relevant in infectious diseases.
“We are researching new drugs and new vaccines and taking advantage of our understanding the glycome.”
The Institute for Glycomics takes a translational approach to its research which is critical to its progress.
“Our aim is to take advantage of our knowledge of the carbohydrate language. Understanding the language helps us understand how new drugs may work for intractable diseases,” Professor von Itzstein says.
The fight against cancer is a primary focus and in 2017 the institute established the Australian Centre for Cancer Glycomics’ (A2CG)
“We can fingerprint cancers to understand how the language changes and what those changes are on the surface of the cancer cell. If we can identify the changes that occur that makes a cell cancerous and cause metastatic cancers, we can potentially discover drugs, or block the changes.
“That is the beauty of this simple language and our ability to crack the code that makes us truly unique.”
Cancer is just one field of interest.
In collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine (ITEM), the Institute for Glycomics is taking on the deadly flu virus and other respiratory disease-causing organisms.
Researchers from each institution have teamed up on the Gold Coast for the project called ‘iCAIR – Fraunhofer International Consortium for Anti-Infective Research’ to develop new anti-infective drugs, including new treatments that combat respiratory viruses including influenza and respiratory infection-causing bacteria and fungi.
Professor Reimund Neugebauer, president of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, said antibiotics were becoming less effective against multi-resistant bacteria.
“Because bacteria keep developing new resistance to antibiotics there is a desperate need for new medications,” he said.
“We urgently need to develop new drugs and find new ways to transfer them from research into clinical trials…”
In March 2017, the Institute for Glycomics edged closer to a cure for malaria after human clinical trials of a malaria vaccine developed by the Institute for Glycomics were a success.
Professor Michael Good is a Principal Research Leader at Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics, and looks to be on the cusp of delivering a major breakthrough against malaria, a disease responsible for more than 400,000 deaths each year.
Professor Good and his team in his Institute-based Laboratory of Vaccines for the Developing World have developed a way to effectively kill the malaria parasite.
“You take the malaria parasite and kill it in away so that it can’t grow or cause malaria and use that preparation to stimulate the body’s own immune system so that when exposed to the real malaria the body’s immune system can fight it effectively,” said Professor Good.
Through its research the Institute for Glycomics now has four unique entities in human clinical trials: two vaccine candidates and two drug candidates.
The institute continues to work closely with funding bodies, research partners and industry to develop drug candidates and cures.
As the only institute in Australia working at this level, and one of only a few in the world, Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics has a real chance of making a difference in the world and change the approach to drug and vaccine discovery forever.