Nontuberculous Mycobacterial (NTM) Research Group

Our respiratory research explores the impact that mycobacteria have through several approaches.

We’re investigating how mycobacteria survive in the environment, including in water, soil and house dust, how they infect humans and cause disease, and how they may be becoming more resistant to antibiotics and disinfection. Ultimately, we’re investigating how we may be able to control them and reduce respiratory disease.

“Patients and healthcare providers are asking for evidence to guide the best approaches to manage this challenging infection. Our research will produce high quality evidence for the best treatment regimens to maximise health outcomes, minimise toxicity and treatment burden, and develop biomarkers (serology, gene expression signatures, and radiology) to guide assessment of disease severity and treatment. In so doing it will transform local as well as global practice.”

Professor Rachel Thomson

The challenge

An increasing number of people are diagnosed with nontuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) infection and bronchiectasis (structural damage to the airways caused by a variety of conditions, including lung infection) each year. These chronic diseases often take time to develop and current treatments are lengthy, poorly tolerated and often lead to antimicrobial resistance. When it comes to these respiratory illnesses there are a lot of unknowns.

Our aim

To reduce the knowledge gap around NTM infection to lead to better treatment opportunities and preventative measures for people with NTM lung disease.

Our impact

NTM infections associated with climate change and major weather events: enhancing surveillance and mitigation strategies

Major weather events cause aerosol dissemination of NTM from the environment, resulting in acute increases in human exposure, and further increases in disease occur because of the impacts on drinking water distribution systems (DWDS). Novel therapies will be evaluated to control NTM growth in the biofilm of DWDS to reduce transmission.

This multi-party collaboration will evaluate the epidemiology of NTM infection in Australia, US, Japan, Thailand and Cambodia by:

  1. Documenting the impact of the dispersal of environmental NTM that occurs following major weather events through geospatial analysis of infection incidence in parallel with climate and weather data
  2. Using modelling techniques to forecast future disease patterns
  3. Developing novel drinking water disinfection methods that will dissipate the impact of increased disease incidence and increased DWDS colonization following weather events and/or climate change

Mycobacterial Biobank

One example of our impact is our management of a dedicated biobank with samples over 20 years old.

For rare diseases, understanding why people are infected is a key factor in providing effective treatment. Our biobank is particularly important when investigating illnesses like NTM lung disease because limited opportunities to recruit participants exist in Australia compared to more common diseases. Standardised collection and processing of samples ensure quality remains high and maintains integrity of future research.

Some examples of projects making use of our biobank specimens to further understand why people are diagnosed with this rare respiratory disease are:

  1. Investigate if defects in the white blood cells that help with immune response (macrophages) could contribute to NTM and bronchiectasis infection.
  2. In collaboration with researchers in Japan, clarify any genetic factors that are related to progression of NTM disease and bronchiectasis using DNA samples. There are over 1,000 individual samples to be processed.
  3. Investigate the interaction between the gut and lung bacterial microbiomes and host immune cells (the gut-lung axis), and how these factors may contribute to disease and treatment outcomes, including resistance to antibiotic therapies.

Lab Head


  • Dr Felicia Goh

    Senior Principal Researcher
    Greenslopes Clinical Unit
    Mycobacterial Biobank Coordinator
  • Robyn Carter

    Research Manager
    Greenslopes Clinical Unit
    Mycobacterial Scientist
  • Dr Melinda Ashcroft

    Dr Melinda Ashcroft

    Research Fellow
    Greenslopes Clinical Unit


  • Robyn Carter (PhD)
  • Ria Thomson (MPhil)
  • Keiko Mishiro (Hons)
  • Benjamin Yeo (Medical student)

If you have any enquiries, please contact