More than 35 million people are living with HIV and tragically, it claims the lives of two million people each year.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects cells of the immune system, causing it to become weak making it more susceptible to infections. HIV is generally spread through unprotected sexual intercourse or contaminated blood, but can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy.

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of HIV infection. It can take 10-15 years for an HIV-infected person to develop AIDS but antiretroviral (ARV) drugs have made a huge difference in slowing or halting the progression to AIDS.

The World Health Organization estimates more than 33 million people are living with the virus with 2.6 million new infections and 1.8 million people dying from HIV-related illness each year.

HIV is a major focus at Burnet, with more than half our work addressing laboratory-based research into finding a cure for the disease while our public health programs are focused on education and prevention both in Australia and overseas.

Research and Public Health Focus

Professor Sharon Lewin discusses the progress towards a cure for HIV.

Centre for Biomedical Research

  • Associate Professor David Anderson and Professor Suzanne Crowe AM developed a Point-of-Care test for CD4 T-cells – an inexpensive test which aims to speed up the HIV diagnosis process and improve access to HIV treatment for millions around the world.
  • Examines the side affects associated with HIV treatments and neuropathy (nerve damage in the feet) in HIV patients.
  • Looks at the effects of HIV infection on the brain and the development of HIV associated dementia (Churchill Laboratory).
  • Investigates how HIV replicates and destroys immune cells.
  • Explores how the immune system recovers from HIV and where HIV ‘hides’ in patients on treatment (Lewin Laboratory).
  • Testing a gel that may be used to block HIV from infecting cells (Tachedjian Laboratory)
  • Working towards an HIV vaccine using protein crystals from insect viruses in collaboration with Monash University (Ffrench Laboratory).

Centre for Population Health

  • Aims to reduce HIV transmission in Australia by managing and developing innovative systems for the Victorian Government.
  • Conducts research involving groups most at risk and vulnerable to HIV

Centre for International Health

  • Works with communities, civil society organisations, international non-government organisations and United Nations agencies with particular interest in Asia and the Pacific, focusing on HIV prevention and care.

Living with HIV

Our Burnet Ambassadors, Deanna Blegg & Princess Kasune Zulu

Deanna Blegg – an Australian mum who is also HIV-positive – has proven you can live a healthy and fulfilled life whilst juggling the effects of antiretroviral drugs. Deanna was diagnosed at just 24 years of age and now in her 40s, she counts herself lucky because she lives in Melbourne where she can access antiretroviral drugs. Millions living with HIV in poor, marginalised communities across southeast Asia and Africa often have a very different outcome.

“HIV infects and affects many families and communities around the world. Through my role with Burnet I travelled to PNG to see the level of dedication of the locals committed to the HIV Prevention Programs,” Deanna said.

“I am proud to support an organisation that supports its community.”

Princess Kasune Zulu, the Zambian-born AIDS activist who now lives in Chicago, was just 21 when she was diagnosed with HIV, having already lost her parents, sister and brother to AIDS.

Princess Zulu shares her story in her role as a Burnet Ambassador around the world.

“Poverty and preventable diseases can be eradicated – it’s a matter for us, collectively, to make it so, find the means to make it so,” she said.

Current Projects

Past Projects

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