Dr Robyn Marsh is a senior researcher at the Menzies School of Health Research with an outstanding track record in microbiome research. Her microbiological expertise extends from traditional microbiological methods through to cutting-edge “multi-OMIC” approaches that incorporate machine learning applications. She has exceptional technical skills and is experienced in developing diagnostics tests (including a provisional patent of a test she developed during her higher degree research).
Dr Marsh’s research vision for the next five years is to lead an independent research program focused on paediatric airway diseases; and within 10 years to become a senior fellow with oversight of a well-established program that is internationally recognised for research and translational excellence.
Persistent bacterial bronchitis is a common condition in children. Left untreated, this condition can progress to bronchiectasis, a severe lung disease that causes permanent lung damage and can reduce life-expectancy. In Australia, 41% of children newly-referred to respiratory specialists have persistent bronchitis and 9% have bronchiectasis. Although most children with persistent bronchitis initially respond to 2-4 weeks of antibiotics, 44% have recurrent episodes and 16% progress to bronchiectasis within 2 years. Breaking the cycle of repeated bronchitis episodes requires treatments that target the bacteria causing the underlying respiratory infection. The current gold-standard test for diagnosing respiratory infections in young children requires general anaesthesia. As this is not always feasible or suitable, children are commonly treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics. In bronchiectasis, antibiotics may be given for up to 2-years to prevent further lung damage. Though essential to care, this treatment risks increasing antibiotic resistance and may impact the child’s gut microbiome.
Two main gaps prevent improved care of children with persistent bronchitis or bronchiectasis: limited understanding of the way these conditions develop, and a lack of tests that can be done outside of a hospital setting. Dr Marsh’s research aims to address these gaps by improving understanding of the processes underlying persistent respiratory infections, and translating this knowledge into new diagnostics. During the Fellowship, she will use a range of OMICs-technologies to elucidate microbial mechanisms involved in bronchitis and bronchiectasis disease processes. This knowledge will be used to identify disease-specific microbial biomarkers suitable for development into new diagnostic tests. Her long-term goal is to develop diagnostic tests that can be used to inform improved clinical care, reduce the need for long-term antibiotic therapies, and are suitable for use in both urban and remote areas.