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 acting Head of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Associate Professor James Ziogas.
Our activities are supported by lab assistants and casual technical staff, and in Papua New Guinea we work with two full-time lab staff, 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.
The AVRU Team
Dr Timothy Jackson
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).
Dr Andrew Watt
Dr Andrew Watt is a medical researcher with a background in neuroscience, proteomics and clinical research. He received his PhD from the University of Melbourne in 2014 for his work focusing on the development of a blood test for Alzheimer’s disease and independent analysis of antibody-based therapies. Andrew holds a Bachelor of Science from Monash University and a BSc (1st class honours) from the University of Melbourne. He has also been teaching within the University of Melbourne’s Medical Doctorate program since 2010.
Andrew joined AVRU in 2017 and is focused on utilising epidemiological data to drive clinical improvements for snakebite patients. Using regional snakebite incidence data, he is working to ensure that local hospitals and health centres have adequate supplies of life-saving anti-venom across Papua New Guinea.
Engagement is also a large part of Andrew’s role with AVRU and he can often be found traveling to universities and schools around Australia to discuss the global impact of snakebite with students, clinicians and researchers alike.
Ms Bianca op den Brouw
Bianca op den Brouw’s diverse research background includes a mix of field herpetology, tropical and marine ecology, and lab-based proteomic and venomic studies. She completed her BSc in Zoology at Liverpool John Moores University, UK, and conducted her honours research on snake venom variation at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. She has since lived and worked in Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, the Seychelles, and Ecuador as a student, teacher, and both a lab and field researcher.
Bianca’s main research interests lie in the evolutionary biology of herpetofauna, and she returned to Australia in 2017 to undertake a PhD (University of Queensland) investigating the evolution of Viperinae viper venoms. Her research adopts a lab-based approach to explore questions surrounding venom evolution, integrating ecology and natural history with proteomics, bioactivity assays, and immunogenicity assays.
Bianca joined AVRU in 2020 to contribute to the lab’s continuing research in venomics, antivenomics, and evolutionary toxinology.
Ms Krutika Wikhe
Krutika Wikhe is a medical researcher with a background in neuroscience, proteomics and molecular biology. She received a Master of Science from RMIT in 2007 which included a year’s research with the CSIRO. Krutika has more than a decade of experience working across academia and industry (Eli Lilly) in Singapore and Australia.
Krutika joined AVRU in late 2017 and has been involved in setting up the new lab space. She will be managing the venomics and antivenomics lab setup along with carrying out the wet lab research. Krutika has also got significant experience as a lab supervisor. Her expertise in this area will be utilised to train and oversee the graduate students joining our team.
Additional and honorary team members:
Professor David A. Warrell - is Principal Fellow of the AVRU; Emeritus Professor of Tropical Medicine and Honorary Fellow of St Cross College, University of Oxford; and Honorary Professor at universities in Peru and China. After training in Oxford and London, Professor Warrell has lived and worked as a physician, teacher, researcher, traveller and naturalist in many tropical countries. He also founded the Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Network in Thailand in 1979. Professor Warrell’s interests include infectious, tropical and respiratory diseases, venomous animals, envenoming, and expedition medicine. He is currently a consultant to the British Army and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Royal Geographical Society, Earthwatch International and the WHO. He is also a Conservation Fellow of the Zoological Society of London. Professor Warrell was formerly the head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine in Oxford and President of the International Federation for Tropical Medicine and the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. He is senior editor of the Oxford Textbook of Medicine (5th Edition, April 2010), Essential Malariology and the Oxford Handbook of Expedition and Wilderness Medicine and author of papers on malaria, rabies, relapsing fevers and other tropical infectious diseases, HIV, respiratory diseases and clinical toxinology.
Dr Will Davies – Dr Davies is an AVRU Research Fellow who studied for his medical degree and did his early training in the United Kingdom before moving to Australia. He undertook his Emergency Medicine fellowship training in Alice Springs in Central Australia, and is particularly interested in remote and conflict zone emergency medicine. He has worked with military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, exploration and petroleum industry operations in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and in high altitude settings in the mountains of Indian Kashmir. Dr Davies has a keen interest in the emergency management of snake bite patients, and has worked closely with AVRU in its clinical projects in Papua New Guinea. Along with Dr Chris Barnes and Dr Simon Jensen, he supports our health worker training programmes on how to effectively treat envenoming.
Dr Chris Barnes – Dr Barnes is a senior medical officer at Bundaberg Base Hospital in Queensland and an AVRU Research Fellow with a strong interest in snakes and snakebite. Dr Barnes trained and worked in the United Kingdom before emigrating to Australia. After two years working in Shepparton Hospital in Victoria, he relocated to Bundaberg on the central Queensland coast, where he has worked for 30 years. He has a long interest in both emergency medicine and clinical toxinology and has worked with AVRU for many years, participating in clinical research projects in Australia and Papua New Guinea, and in clinical training and education programmes run by AVRU in PNG.
Dr Simon Jensen – Dr Jensen is an emergency physician and clinical toxinologist at the Sunshine Coast Hospital in south-east Queensland. He holds a number of honorary appointments including as a Research Fellow with the AVRU at the University of Melbourne, a Lecturer in Emergency Medicine at the School of Medicine & Health Sciences at the University of Papua New Guinea, and Emergency Consultant at Port Moresby General Hospital. In addition to his interests in envenoming, Dr Jensen teaches on a number of specialist training courses and is interested in travel and expedition medicine. He has been the clinical director of the AVRU-UPNG Snakebite Research Project. He is also a founding member of the Charles Campbell Toxinology Centre at the University of PNG. Alongside Dr David Williams, Dr Jensen developed the snakebite management training courses for doctors and health workers that run in Papua New Guinea and Cambodia.
Dr Wolfgang Wüster - Dr Wüster is an AVRU Research Fellow from the University of Wales, in Bangor, United Kingdom. He is one of the world’s leading venomous snake phylogeneticists and taxonomists. Since earning his PhD on the systematics of Asiatic cobras in 1990, Dr Wüster has authored more than 120 scientific papers on the ecology, phylogeny, systematics and biogeography of snakes, as well as venom evolution. His current research interests include the origin and evolution of snake venom, and venom toxins, venomous snake systematics, biogeography and phylogenetics. Over the past 5 years Dr Wüster has given particular focus to the investigating the biogeography and systematics of New Guinean elapid snakes using methods of molecular genetic analysis. This work has progressed in collaboration with the AVRU and the University of PNG, with several collaborative papers published or in press. He has previous experience of snake radiotelemetry, population size assessment, as well as extensive tropical field experience in Central and South America, Asia, Australasia, Africa and the Middle East.