Matt Payne

Dr, BSc James Cook, PhD Qld

  • The University of Western Australia (M550), 35 Stirling Highway,

    6009 Perth


Calculated based on number of publications stored in Pure and citations from Scopus

Personal profile


Dr Payne leads the microbiological research in Professor John Newnham’s preterm birth prevention initiative. He is a perinatal molecular microbiologist with specific research interests in the role of Ureaplasma spp. in preterm birth, the perinatal microbiome and use of bacteriophages as a targeted, non-antibiotic approach to treating Group B Streptococcus in pregnancy.


Since completing his PhD at the University of Queensland in 2007, Dr Payne has conducted research on the microbiome of bronchopulmonary dysplasia in preterm neonates at Kings College London, UK, as well as research into the roles of Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans in breastfeeding infections in the NHMRC-funded CASTLE study at La Trobe University, Melbourne.


To date, Dr Payne has been awarded $3,082,409.20 AUD and £18,882.60 GBP in peer-reviewed, competitive grant funding as a chief investigator. This represents 21 individual grants (10 as CIA), of which four are NHMRC-funded.

Dr Payne is also actively involved in the local and national scientific community where he holds a current position on the University of Western Australia Human Research Ethics Committee and has held positions on the NHMRC Microbiology and Virology Grant Review Panel (2017) and on the Australian Society for Medical Research WA Branch committee (2015-2017).


Prevention of Infection-Driven Preterm Birth

Since beginning his research into the role of Ureaplasma sp. in preterm birth in 2012, Dr Payne has published 11 peer-reviewed articles specifically relating to this organism. Of note, his study published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth was the first study to ever show a link between U. parvum genotype and risk of preterm birth. Data from this study was subsequently used to power the NHMRC-funded Predict1000 study, which has resulted in the development of a novel molecular test for prediction of high-risk pregnancies based upon specific vaginal microbial markers in mid-gestation (patent pending). This test now forms the basis of an NHRMC-funded randomised clinical trial that Dr Payne is coordinating alongside Professor's John Newnham, Jeff Keelan and Dorota Doherty. In this trial (The Preterm Birth Prevention Study) a novel microbiological intervention will be administered to women who screen positive for the test (and are in the intervention group) to try and reduce the rate of preterm birth. If successful, this trial will have a major impact on obstetric practice in Australia and potentially other countries.

Other notable studies include the development of novel diagnostic molecular assays for detection of Ureaplasma parvum and its genotypes directly from clinical samples. A focal point of Dr Payne’s research to date has been to attempt to change the long standing belief that it is not necessary to screen for Ureaplasma spp. in high-risk pregnant women. His research has since demonstrated that it is crucial to determine species (U. parvum) and genotype (SV6) in order to attain clinically beneficial information. His most recent publication describes a new molecular assay born from a collaborative venture with an Australian molecular diagnostics company (SpeeDx) that has potential for clinical use in Australia at a later date.

Group B Streptococcus in Western Australian Pregnant Women

Dr Payne currently supervises a 3rd year PhD candidate, Ms Lucy Furfaro, who has been conducting research into the epidemiology of Group B Streptococcus (GBS) in Western Australian pregnant women. GBS are separated into 10 different serotypes and Ms Furfaro’s work has demonstrated that the serotype distribution in Western Australia is significantly different to that of other Australian states and Oceania. The results of this research are likely to significantly benefit any future attempts to introduce GBS vaccination to replace current antibiotic prophylaxis. In addition, through this work, Dr Payne/Ms Furfaro have developed a novel multiplex diagnostic molecular test to concurrently detect and identify the three most clinically relevant serotypes of GBS in DNA from vaginal/rectal swabs. This work was published in Diagnostic Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Journal.

Bacteriophage Therapy for Targeted, Non-Antibiotic Treatment of Group B Streptococcus

In addition to GBS epidemiology, Ms Furfaro’s research is also focusing on the identification of bacterial viruses known as bacteriophages that have antibacterial activity against GBS strains from pregnant women. Bacteriophages were once widely used for treatment of bacterial infection in the pre-antibiotic era and have the major benefit of being specific for their bacterial hosts, leaving the surrounding microbiota untouched and having no known negative effects on humans. Such a targeted approach to removal of GBS from the vagina and rectum during pregnancy would likely result in significant reductions in antenatal antibiotic use, something that would likely be of substantial benefit to newborn infants, in addition to helping to reduce the potential for the development of antibiotic resistance through continued widespread prophylactic use. To date, Ms Furfaro has isolated four bacteriophages with substantial activity against maternal and infant GBS strains.

Dr Payne is currently working towards establishing a Western Australian Bacteriophage Therapy Initiative, through a new collaboration with Professor Jon Iredell from The Westmead Institute/University of Sydney.  

The fetal microbiome - Does colonisation occur in utero?

Dr Payne currently supervises a 3rd year PhD candidate, Ms Lisa Stinson, who has been characterising the fetal microbiome and uncovering whether this is established in utero or after birth. For many years the uterine environment was believed to be sterile in normal, healthy pregnancies, until a number of studies using culture-indepedent techniques suggested that there was indeed a placental microbiome. However, studies have since shown that microbial DNA contamination from DNA extraction kits and PCR reagents are what contributes to this 'microbiome' and as a result, many people have again shifted to the belief that the uterine environment in healthy term pregnancies is sterile. A further limitation of previous studies in this field is that short-amplicon partial 16S rRNA gene sequencing has been utilised, providing sub-optimal taxonomic information at best. Using late gestation amniotic fluid and meconium collected prior to the start of breastfeeding, combined with appropriate DNA extration and PCR negative controls, dsDNase-treated PCR reagents and full-length 16S rRNA gene sequencing, Ms Stinson's work has shown that there is indeed bacterial DNA in amniotic fluid from healthy term pregnancies, as well as in pre-breastfeeding meconium samples. She is now working to attain species-level (for most) bacterial profiles for each of the sample types and relating these to corresponding bacterial metabolite profiles.

Current projects

  • The Preterm Birth Prevention Study - A prospective, open-label, single-centre, randomised clinical trial of a novel maternal microbiological “screen & treat” program compared with normal care for the prevention of preterm birth
  • Predict1000 - Vaginal microbial biomarkers for the prevention of preterm birth
  • Non-antibiotic treatment for prevention of early onset-neonatal GBS disease
  • Molecular characterisation of Ureaplasma parvum - Towards identifying strains associated with preterm birth
  • The microbiome of mid-gestation amniotic fluid in healthy and preterm pregnancies
  • The fetal gut microbiome - Does colonisation begin before birth?
  • The human milk microbiome

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Research expertise keywords

  • Prevention of preterm birth (infection-mediated)
  • Ureaplasma spp.
  • Perinatal microbiome
  • Bacteriophage therapy


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