CSIRO Hendra Virus Research Team wins Eureka Prize

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The immunohistochemistry laboratory within the centre suite in the microbiologically secure section of CSIROs Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Photography: Livestock Industries. Source: CSIRO Science Image
The immunohistochemistry laboratory within the centre suite in the microbiologically secure section of CSIROs Australian Animal Health Laboratory. Photography: Livestock Industries. Source: CSIRO Science Image

Winners of the 25th Australian Museum Eureka Prizes were announced on Wednesday, 10 September, and the CSIRO’s Hendra Virus Research Team came out on top for the achieving the first vaccine and treatment against Hendra virus, and first vaccine against any biosafety-level-4 disease

With a death rate over 50 per cent and an ability to cross species, the Hendra virus that emerged in 1994 had frightening potential. The new virus was quickly identified, but a vaccine proved harder.

Now, thanks to the work of CSIRO’s Hendra Virus Research Team in Geelong we have the first vaccine and effective human treatment against the virus, and skills and resources that are being applied against Ebola.

The Hendra virus has a proven ability to cross species: from bat to horse to human. There have been 50 outbreaks of the disease in Australia since it was first observed in 1994. Fatality rates are extremely high: 75 per cent of horses that contracted the disease have died, as have four of the eight people.

“The vaccine provides Australia, and the world, with the first set of targeted tools to protect people and animals against this deadly virus,” Australian Museum Director and CEO Kim McKay said. “And now this remarkable team are applying their skills to the even deadlier scourge of Ebola.”

The CSIRO team has made a significant contribution to advancing our understanding of the threat posed by Hendra, including fully sequencing the virus genome.

Global growth, geographic expansion of human populations, and the intensification of agriculture have resulted in a greater risk of infectious diseases being transmitted to animals from people, and vice versa. While the current list of known emerging infectious diseases is a major concern, it is viruses—currently unknown—with a potential for efficient transmission that pose the biggest threat.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards. The Eureka Prizes have been rewarding science since 1990—celebrating 25 years in 2014.

The other finalists were:

The University of Melbourne’s Professor Elizabeth Hartland and Dr Jaclyn Pearson who discovered how E. coli cleverly keeps itself alive.

The Magic Glasses team of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and University of Queensland who have used a cartoon DVD to fight parasitic worms in rural China.

Contact the winners

Dr Deborah Middleton, deborah.middleton@csiro.au

Professor Linfa Wang, linfa.wang@csiro.au

Gary Crameri, gary.crameri@csiro.au

Dr Glenn Marsh, glenn.marsh@csiro.au

Dr Jackie Pallister, jackie.pallister@csiro.au

For more information on the Eureka Prizes please visit http://australianmuseum.net.au/eureka.

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