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.
The AVRU Team
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. In December 2017 he was selected by WHO to chair their new Snakebite Envenoming Working Group (SBE-WG) which has been tasked with developing a comprehensive road map strategy to reduce and control the global burden this neglected tropical disease.
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 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 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 Wikhe 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.
Ms Diana Barr
Mr Owen Paiva
Owen Paiva is a PhD candidate in the Australian Venom Research Unit. His research is focused on the composition and variation in venoms collected from the nine recognised species of Australian brown snakes (Pseudonaja species). Owen’s research will investigate whether the differences in venom composition influence the efficacy of current antivenom therapy.
Prior to starting his PhD, Owen worked as a Public Officer and Lab Manager for the Charles Campbell Toxinology Centre (CCTC) at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG). In these roles, he assisted in the establishment of a dedicated research laboratory and snakebite clinic to facilitate a clinical trial of a new antivenom for the treatment of Papuan taipan bites. Trained by Dr David Williams, Owen has almost a decade’s worth of experience working with venomous snakes in PNG. During this time, he also helped manage the CCTC serpentarium, where he was responsible for the general care and wellbeing of venomous snakes kept for research purposes. Mr Paiva also regularly participated in the teaching and demonstration of the prevention of snakebite and snakebite first aid practices to primary care health workers, medical students, and the general public when doing professional presentations and community visits for snakebite awareness.
Owen was awarded a Masters in Basic Medical Sciences (MMedSci) from UPNG for his thesis, “The Isolation and Identification of Toxic Peptides from the New Guinea Small-eyed Snake”. He was awarded the Deborah-Lehmann prize for best research paper leading to implementation and also was awarded a poster prize for presentation of this work at the 17th European Section of the International Society for Toxinologists (IST) Conference (Valencia, Spain). He has also been involved in several publications of work related to different snakes of Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Mr Paiva is passionate about learning new scientific techniques, methods, and research applications in toxinology that offer better insight into snake venom toxins and how they affect biological systems. He is also passionate about investigating how basic research can contribute to better practices and improved clinical outcomes for snakebite victims in the developing world.
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.