SA’s first biofilm test facility to help fight chronic infections

Dr Nicky Thomas (centre) with PhD students Chelsea Thorn and Yassamin Al-Bayaty in the Biofilm Test Facility at UniSA’s City East campus. HEALTH
Dr Nicky Thomas (centre) with PhD students Chelsea Thorn and Yassamin Al-Bayaty in the Biofilm Test Facility at UniSA’s City East campus.

> International recognition for Biofilm Test Facility

The University of South Australia is now home to South Australia’s first test facility specialising in the most successful form of life on Earth – biofilms – and will join a global battle against the chronic infections they can cause.

The Adelaide Biofilm Test Facility (BTF) aims to improve treatment and prevention of biofilm-associated diseases through a variety of testing methods. It will also offer research students unique learning opportunities.

UniSA research associate Dr Nicky Thomas, who heads up the facility, says they want to work with companies which make antibiotics, wound dressings, band aids and disinfectants to help fight the infections caused by biofilms.

“Biofilms are surface attached bacteria which are the cause of infection, they are also the most successful form of life on Earth and can colonise both living and non-living surfaces,” Dr Thomas says.

“In the body, biofilms can be found as plaque on teeth, chronic lung and sinus infections and in wounds.”

The facility can create a variety of biofilm models to replicate real-life scenarios.

“For instance, we can create an artificial wound infection without using a human or animal body. We can then use this to test and evaluate biofilm inhibition and killing efficacies of antibiotics, wound dressings and band aids,” he says.

“Historically, the standardised method to analyse things like the efficiency of antibiotics, is to look at bacteria in a fluid. However, 99.99 per cent of all bacteria does not exist in such a form, they exist in an immobilised, attached form which is why these new models of testing are so important.”

Dr Thomas is a co-founder of the BTF and was recently awarded a prestigious Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Early Career Researchers Fellowship worth $309,436, in relation to his translational research on nanomedicine interactions with antibiotic-resistant biofilms.

Dr Thomas and his colleagues from the Sansom Institute for Health Research, Professor Clive Prestidge and Dr Rietie Venter, established South Australia’s first experimental BTF after being awarded a grant from Adelaide Integrated Biosciences (AIB) Laboratories and TechInSA. UniSA’s Sansom Institute for Health Research and the School of Pharmacy further funded the launch of the BTF and invested in state-of-the art equipment.

The BTF provides academics, healthcare providers and industry a range of in vitro (test-tube based) and in vivo (in living organisms) efficacy tests for compounds, formulations and medical devices against biofilms that are associated with recurring and difficult to treat chronic infections.

The BTF also provides Masters and PhD students with advanced learning opportunities relating to their field of interest.

PhD candidate Chelsea Thorn is aiming to develop smarter ways to deliver antimicrobial compounds to biofilms by developing a topical treatment in the form of a gel, so that antibiotics can work better.

“The BTF is a huge benefit for me as I am able to easily access the expertise and techniques of renowned, high-standard biofilm models. I was also able to conduct research within the BTF during my Honours project, as part of the Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours),” Chelsea says.

“My findings resulted in a co-authored publication in the Journal of Pharmaceuticals and I also received an award from the Society of Hospital Pharmacists Australia. To achieve this from a four-month project was very rewarding.”

The BTF was modelled on the Costerton Biofilm Centre at the University of Copenhagen. BTF researchers not only collaborate closely with Australian organisations such as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, but also internationally with SickKids in Toronto Canada and the Laboratory of Pharmaceutical Microbiology at Ghent University in Belgium.

Read more on the Adelaide Biofilm Test Facility website.

International recognition for Biofilm Test Facility

Adelaide’s Biofilm Test Facility is already attracting interest from international researchers.

A postdoctoral researcher from Malaysia has been awarded an Australia - APEC Women in Research Fellowship to work at the Biofilm Test Facility. She will work under the supervision of Dr Thomas for three months from July.

The fellowship recipient is from The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.

The Australia - APEC Women in Research Fellowship provides financial support for high-achieving female researchers from developing APEC economies to pursue research opportunities in partnership with Australian education and research institutions.

A maximum of ten fellowships are awarded each year and are extremely competitive across countries including China, Indonesia, Mexico, Malaysia and Peru.