The Australian Venom Research Unit (AVRU) has a small core of full-time research fellows, assisted and supported by our main internal collaborator, Associate Professor Christine Wright, and by the head and deputy head of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Professor Daniel Hoyer and Associate Professor James Ziogas.
Our activities are supported by lab assistants and casual technical staff, and in Papua New Guinea we work with three full-time lab staff, a doctor and an intensive care nursing officer, along with casual clinical and support staff. AVRU has a network of Australian and international honorary research fellows with medical or scientific backgrounds.
Over the coming 5 years we plan to grow! We intend on creating six new postdoctoral research positions, three new research assistant positions and three new administration/technical support roles.
Dr David Williams (AVRU Head)
In addition to his role as the head of AVRU, Dr Williams leads the Charles Campbell Toxinology Centre (CCTC) at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Papua New Guinea, where he manages AVRU’s 13-year snakebite project in PNG. Dr Williams is also CEO of the internationally active non-profit organisation the Global Snakebite Initiative (GSI), which promotes greater recognition of the public health impact of snakebite envenoming in the developing world, and seeks partnership to create solutions. Through engagement with the World Health Organization (WHO), WHO Member States, civil society, advocacy groups and a network of researchers and medical professionals, Dr Williams has contributed to the impending return of snakebite to the WHO list of Neglected Tropical Diseases, and is now working to secure the requisite Member State support for a resolution to direct comprehensive action on snakebite by the WHO at the 2018 World Health Assembly. Dr Williams chairs the WHO committee for the evaluation of antivenom product dossiers for Sub-Saharan Africa, and was editor of the second edition of the WHO Guidelines for the Production, Control and Regulation of Snake Antivenom Immunoglobulins and temporary advisor on antivenoms to the 2016 WHO Expert Committee on Biological Standardization.
Prior to AVRU's current engagement with the WHO, Dr Williams had held positions on previous WHO committees and working groups, and been engaged as a consultant. He was a facilitator of the WHO Bi‐Regional Workshop on the Production, Control, and Regulation of Antivenoms (Jakarta, Indonesia, 2008); contributed to the 1st edition of the WHO Guidelines for the Production, Control and Regulation of Snake Antivenom Immunoglobulins (2008-10); was an advisor to the WHO Expert Committee on Biological Standardization (2008); Consultant Toxinologist to the WHO Country Office for Cambodia and the Cambodian Ministry of Health (2008-2009) and was employed by WHO as Technical Officer (Snake Antivenoms) in the Essential Medicines and Health Technologies Department in Geneva (2009-2010), during a sabbatical from AVRU.
At AVRU Dr Williams leads teams focussed on preclinical and clinical toxinology research as well as venomous injury surveillance, venomics, antivenomics, and education of medical professionals and community members. He joined academia in 1999 after having worked in zoos, public exhibits and venom production laboratories as a herpetologist specialising in venomous snakes for most of his adult life. At James Cook University (JCU), he pursued an interest in snakebite by undertaking an epidemiological study of snakebite envenoming in rural Papua New Guinea (PNG). This was followed by a prospective clinical study of snake bite envenoming at Port Moresby General Hospital (PMGH) during his PhD project (2005-2009). He has been instrumental in establishing many of AVRU's key international collaborations and has managed the PNG Snakebite Research Project since 2004. This project led to a three way partnership between the University of Melbourne, University of PNG and the Instituto Clodomiro Picado (Universidad de Costa Rica), which resulted in successful development of the first new snake antivenom for human use in Australasia since 1960.
His work on snakebite in PNG has led to tangible improvements in the treatment of patients, which have significantly reduced case fatality rates, resulted in new standard protocols for patient treatment, established functional infrastructure that supports basic and clinical research projects, and have been translated into modern snakebite treatment facilities and remote emergency medical retrieval services. Internationally, he is well-regarded for his advocacy for the plight of snake bite victims in the developing world in his role with GSI and for his contributions to the development of new, innovative strategies for improving access to life-saving antivenoms. He coordinates the curriculum for PNG's National Snakebite Management Course and was the senior editor and author of Venomous Bites and Stings in Papua New Guinea, PNG’s first textbook on the treatment of envenoming, published in 2005.
Dr Ronelle Welton (AVIP, Engagement)
A scientist with a strong interest in public health and venom, Dr Welton has managed AVRU’s Australian Venomous Injury Project (AVIP) since January 2014. Her PhD in biochemistry (2005) was undertaken at James Cook University and analysed proteomic and genomic components of the venoms from Australian and Papuan taipans (Oxyuranus scutellatus).
Following an appointment to undertake post-doctoral research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), Dr Welton accepted a position in Papua New Guinea where she supported the establishment and implementation of an operational research project designed to support a community based project in the Southern Highlands Province. This work aimed to significantly decrease the morbidity and mortality associated with malaria (2006-2013) and HIV (2007-2009). The project linked with local and national governments, international donors (Asia Development Bank) and gained international attention (Medicines for Malaria Venture, Roll Back Malaria).
Dr Welton completed a Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at James Cook University during the period of her work in PNG. Her appointment to manage the AVIP project at AVRU reflected her broad experience in public health and her hands-on expertise in engagement and translation projects.
Dr Timothy Jackson (NRVCA, Evolution of toxins and venoms, Engagement)
Dr Timothy Jackson is an evolutionary toxinologist who has been publishing in the field since 2003. He received his PhD from the University of Queensland in 2016 for his thesis entitled “A philosophical and empirical investigation of the toxicoferan reptile venom system.” He holds undergraduate degrees from the University of Sydney (BA with majors in Music and Biology) and University of Queensland (BSc with first class honours in evolutionary biology).
His work focuses on the evolution of reptile venom systems and their constituent toxins and has resulted in the publication of 28 peer-reviewed papers and contributions to 26 book chapters to-date. Having grown up largely in Australia, working with Australian venomous snakes from a young age, a particular focus of Dr Jackson’s work has been the evolution of the venom of Australian elapid snakes and its connection with their ecological and behavioural diversity.
He is passionate in his belief that a deep understanding of the evolution of venoms and their constituent toxins can make an important contribution to the treatment of snakebite. In addition, his work on the molecular evolution of toxin genes focuses on treating them as a model system for molecular evolutionary processes in general.
Dr Jackson’s areas of expertise include evolutionary biology (evolutionary theory, molecular evolution and organismal biology), venomics (proteomics and transcriptomics), bioinformatics and computational biology, toxin structure-function and evolution, anatomy of reptilian venom systems, philosophy of science and animal husbandry.
In 2017 Dr Jackson joined AVRU, where he will continue his evolutionary research and head the Venoms and Antivenoms Reference Laboratory, which will characterise the venoms of medically important venomous snakes, evaluate antivenom efficacy, and generate the reference standards for the National Reference Venom Collection for Australia (NRVCA).