News

2018 Year in Review: January to June

Burnet Institute

20 December, 2018

January

Image: Professor James Beeson, Burnet’s head of malaria research

Vaccine hope as Burnet research unlocks malaria secrets

Burnet Institute saw in the year with the creation of a malaria ‘Frankenstein’ to reveal secrets about the deadly species Plasmodium vivax.

The research team led by Professor James Beeson and Dr Damien Drew effectively tricked a different malaria species, Plasmodium falciparum, into expressing a P. vivax protein.

The team was surprised and excited to find that antibodies generated by vaccination to the P. vivax protein effectively blocked infection of human red blood cells, revealing a new vaccine target and an entirely new strategy for malaria vaccine development.

Their work represents a major milestone in the development of a world-first, life-saving, malaria vaccine and came in the wake of a call from Bill Gates for Australia to lead the fight against malaria.

Burnet at the heart of Midsumma

The Midsumma Carnival in Melbourne was well attended by Burnet’s researchers. They were kept busy attending to keen interest in the Institute’s research in HIV and sexual health. The festival is Melbourne’s annual celebration of queer, intersex, transsexual, transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay culture. The Carnival kicked off two weeks of activities.

Image: Burnet researchers Dr Michael Traeger, Dr Cassandra Wright, Reece Cossar and Joost Vanhommerig

Burnet researcher Dr Jason Asselin said the strong support and goodwill of carnival-goers is an affirmation of the Institute’s important role in the community.

Vale Jenny Kelsall

Sadly, the Institute mourned the passing of former staff member Jenny Kelsall, a passionate advocate of harm reduction.

“I want to ensure that people who are at risk of contacting viral hepatitis and people who are living with viral hepatitis are all treated with the respect that they deserve,” Ms Kelsall said of her work.

February

The Institute was pleased to announce that vital Burnet studies had attracted funding from the Australian Centre for HIV and Hepatitis Virology Research.

An ACH2 grant supported Professor Gilda Tachedjian’s research to formulate a gel containing lactic acid, which has an anti-inflammatory effect on harmful bacteria in the vagina, a condition called bacterial vaginosis.

Burnet’s Professor Margaret Hellard will play a key role at this year’s World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) in Qatar, chairing the Viral Hepatitis Forum.

Image: Professor Margaret Hellard addresses the WISH 2018 Forum on Vital Hepatitis

As International Day of Women and Girls in Science passed, the Institute reaffirmed its longstanding commitment to achieving gender equity. Professor Suzanne Crowe AM reflected on her career in HIV research, with a special focus on the early days when HIV was discovered in Australia.

PBS listing for PrEP welcomed

Burnet welcomed approval for HIV PrEP medication to be subsidised through Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Elsewhere, the Institute released research focusing on the behaviours young heterosexual Australians see in online pornography.

The study authors concluded, ‘the young people reported frequently seeing sexualised depictions of gender inequality, and a concerning proportion also reported frequently seeing violence towards women in the pornography they watched’.

March

International Women’s Day 2018: Investing in maternal health

A trailblazer in maternal and child health, Professor Caroline Homer AO delivered the keynote address at Burnet’s International Women’s Day launch. ‘Leave No Woman Behind: Investing in Maternal Health’ was the theme of her talk.

A noted public speaker, Caroline clearly made an impression. She began the year as Director of the Centre for Midwifery, Child and Family Health at University of Technology Sydney before joining Burnet as Co-Program Director, Maternal & Child Health.

Image: Professor Suzanne Crowe and Dr Michelle Scoullar chat with longstanding Burnet supporters Lady Anna Cowen and Ms Kate Cowen.

Burnet’s annual Sex Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll survey went live, with sexting and alcohol use among new topics for investigation.

Premier’s Awards for Burnet researcher

Malaria researcher Dr Kerryn Moore completed a prestigious double as the winner of awards for Public Health and overall Excellence at the Victorian Premier’s Awards for Health and Medical Research.

Image: From left: Associate Professor Freya Fowkes, Premier’s Award winner Dr Kerryn Moore, Professor Julie Simpson and Professor James Beeson.

Ms Moore’s research on the impact of malaria in pregnancy on birth outcomes in Asia, undertaken at Burnet Institute, has influenced World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on treatment.

The Institute marked the passing of Professor David Cooper, a pioneer and giant in the field of HIV research, following a short illness.

April

Malaria was the dominant theme for the month, as Dr Jo-Anne Chan explained why research to develop a highly effective, long lasting malaria vaccine is so important.

On World Malaria Day 2018, Burnet Institute’s Head of Malaria Research, Professor James Beeson remained optimistic about the prospects of achieving malaria elimination.

“Building on tremendous gains over the past decade, exciting strategies are being developed to prevent malaria and reduce the burden of disease,” Professor Beeson said.

Burnet Institute staff and students celebrated the 2018 Day of Immunology by showcasing their research and Burnet’s laboratory facilities for visiting secondary students and interested members of the public.

Image: Dr Bruce Wines introduces Burnet Institute’s Day of Immunology

May

Burnet researched revealed that bats - renowned and feared as carriers and transmitters (but not sufferers) of deadly viruses like Ebola, Hendra and SARS - possess the largest and most diverse range of antiviral genes in the mammalian world.

It was a month of recognition for Burnet staff. Infectious Disease Specialist Dr Philipp du Cros was awarded the RACP International Medal for 2018.

The RACP Medal recognises a member who has provided outstanding service in developing countries, in particular, for people in crisis.

Dr Anna Hearps - the 2018 Gust-McKenzie Medallist

The Institute’s Deputy Program Director, Healthy Ageing (Expansion Program), Dr Anna Hearps was acknowledged for her outstanding and diverse body of HIV research with the prestigious 2018 Gust-McKenzie Medal.

Image: 2018 Gust-McKenzie Medallist, Dr Anna Hearps

Addressing the Institute’s 29th Annual General Meeting at AMREP Theatre, Burnet chair Mr Robert Milne said 2017 had been a year of tremendous change and innovation for the Institute as it began the implementation of the bold strategic plan, Burnet 2020.

May also saw the awarding of Burnet Institute’s 2018 Travel Awards. Amsterdam, New Orleans and Madrid are among the destinations of choice for the winners, announced by Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC.

June

The results were in for Burnet’s 2018 Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll survey. A growing awareness around sexting was revealed in the survey’s findings.

Ahead of the inaugural Malaria World Congress, founder and Co-Chair, Professor Brendan Crabb AC was feeling optimistic about the prospects for malaria elimination.

“Together these have been fundamental in driving a momentum toward malaria elimination, a political momentum that we haven’t seen the likes of before … a momentum now that I think is unstoppable,” Professor Crabb said.

The announcement of the Queen’s Birthday honours saw former Burnet board members Neil Edwards and Professor Jim McCluskey acknowledged for their service.

Burnet research opens new malaria vaccine pathway

Burnet Institute researchers were able to identify a novel process used by the immune system to kill and clear malaria, a discovery that could facilitate the development of effective malaria vaccines.

The research led by PhD student Liriye Kurtovic and supervised by Burnet’s Head of Malaria Research Professor James Beeson, is the first to establish that antibodies produced by the immune system interact with important proteins in the blood called complement to block the ability of malaria to establish infection.

Burnet embarked on a map-building project to support its Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) program and malaria research in Papua New Guinea.

The Institute’s Dr Siti Khayriyyah Mohd Hanafiah was announced the 2018 FameLab International Champion for science communications.

Alfred Health Week showcased a year’s worth of innovative science and medicine projects, including Burnet’s groundbreaking work.

As the Malaria World Congress 2018 loomed, the disease came under the spotlight, Professor Brendan Crabb appeared on Saturday Extra with Geraldine Doogue and 774 ABC’s Conversation Hour with Jon Faine.

Image: Professor Brendan Crabb AC and Associate Professor Helen Evans AO with 774 ABC’s Jon Faine.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Tracy Parish

Executive General Manager, Marketing and Communications

Telephone

+61385062321

Email

tracy.parish@burnet.edu.au

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