News

2017 Year in Review: January to June

Burnet Institute

20 December, 2017

Image: A new research agreement in January heralded work on a malaria vaccine

As the year comes to a close, we take this opportunity to reflect on our major news stories of 2017. Exciting events, scientific discoveries, awards and significant milestones made this year one of Burnet’s most successful.

January

Burnet Institute kicked off the year by announcing a research collaboration agreement with US-based GeoVax Labs, Inc., for the development of a vaccine to prevent malaria and advance the goal of elimination. Professor James Beeson heads the malaria vaccine project.

Thousands flocked to Melbourne’s riverside Alexandra Gardens for Sunday’s 2017 Midsumma Carnival, where staff at Burnet’s stall fielded queries on a hot day about the institute’s work, especially in HIV treatment and prevention. We’ll be back there again in 2018.

Image: Infectious Disease Modeller Ruth Pearson and public health researcher Bridget Draper

February

The elimination of hepatitis C virus (HCV) as a global public health threat was the goal of a AUD$7 million NHMRC Program Grant awarded to Burnet Institute’s Professor Margaret Hellard to research new highly effective direct-acting antiviral medications.

Burnet researchers identified the first mechanism linking malaria in pregnancy and the low birth weight babies, a discovery expected to enhance prospects of neonatal survival in the 85 million pregnancies exposed to malaria globally every year.

A new support team for tuberculosis (TB) patients on Daru Island in Western Province in Papua New Guinea (PNG) was launched to improve wellbeing of people undergoing treatment, with peer counsellors funded to support TB patients through their treatment journey.

Image: The TB PALS team, front row (left to right): Allan Kuma (lead Counsellor), Emmanuel Lau, Lucy Dai, and Ethel Pamumum. Back row (left to right) Donald Lance Kila and George Maruse.

March

Burnet Institute began a new era in its history with its transformation to a program-led organisation, placing interdisciplinary health programs at the heart of daily decision-making. Burnet Institute Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb AC said the change was a significant milestone.

Burnet senior researchers played major roles at the 15th World Congress on Public Health in Melbourne, as leaders of dialogues on malaria, TB, HIV and hepatitis B and C. Professor Margaret Hellard (HIV and viral hepatitis), Dr Suman Majumdar (TB) and Associate Professor Freya Fowkes (malaria) were selected to lead their respective dialogues as ‘people whose personal achievements influence others and translate words into actions’.

Image: Burnet Deputy Director (Programs) Professor Margaret Hellard

Also in March, a multinational study led by Burnet researchers identified natural immunity to malaria as a key factor in the clearance of the malaria parasite, and also as a potential driver of artemisinin-resistant malaria.

April

Professor Margaret Hellard was appointed Co-Chair of the WHO Strategic and Technical Advisory Committee on HIV and Viral Hepatitis, which will provide the WHO with strategic advice on HIV and viral hepatitis for the next several years.

Political leaders from Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) showed their support for Burnet Institute’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program at an Anzac Day-eve dinner in Port Moresby. Guests included PNG Prime Minister The Hon Peter O’Neill MP, his wife Lynda Babao, and Australian Opposition leader The Hon Bill Shorten, and his wife and longstanding Burnet supporter, Chloe Bryce Shorten.

Image: (L-R) Australian Opposition Leader The Hon Bill Shorten MP, PNG Prime Minister The Hon Peter O'Neill MP, Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Also in April, Burnet jointly hosted Australia Awards courses aimed at developing bespoke projects to reduce the burden of malaria in Indonesia’s eastern provinces. The courses, developed with Melbourne University’s Nossal Institute for Global Health, were funded by the Australian and Indonesian Governments.

May

Burnet Institute HIV scientists identified a metabolite produced by bacteria in the vaginal tract that could help protect women at increased risk of HIV from contracting the virus. The Burnet study was led by Professor Gilda Tachedjian and published in the Nature journal Mucosal Immunology.

Dr Joseph Doyle, Burnet’s Deputy Program Director, Disease Elimination and Co-head, Viral Hepatitis Research, was awarded the 2017 Gust-McKenzie Medal for his outstanding research in the epidemiology, management and prevention of blood borne viruses (HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B).

Image: 2017 Gust-McKenzie Medalist Dr Joseph Doyle is congratulated by Professor Ian Gust AO

June

A point-of-care test to detect liver disease, developed by Burnet Institute spinoff company, Nanjing BioPoint Diagnostic Technology, was recognised as an example of ‘China Good Technology’ by the China Association of Productivity Promotion, one of only seven medical technology innovations recognised from the final list of 108 products.

Burnet’s HMHB project to provide life-saving heath care for women and children in PNG recruited its 700th participant, a milestone which marked completion of the project’s recruitment phase.

Also in June, a Burnet parenting program in PNG was incorporated into the local government’s own health system, after reaching more than 10,000 families. The Enhanced Antenatal Care program, part of the HMHB program, was funded with Australian community donations matched by the Australian government’s NGO Cooperation Program.

Contact Details

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

Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Director and CEO; Co-Head Malaria Research Laboratory; Chair, Victorian Chapter of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)

Telephone

+61392822174

Email

brendan.crabb@burnet.edu.au

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