2019 in Review: July to December

Burnet Institute

20 December, 2019

Image: Burnet's Head of Cell Imaging, Dr Paul Gilson prepares videos of malaria parasite invasion


Videos unlock malaria mystery

Hi-tech videos by Burnet Institute scientists of malaria parasite invasion have validated important discoveries by Oxford University for the potential development of a world-first effective malaria vaccine.

The Oxford research, published in the prestigious journal, Cell, identifies how a protein called RH5 helps human antibodies to block Plasmodium falciparum malaria from invading and destroying red blood cells.

But the journal agreed to publish only after the addition of microscopic live video recordings by Burnet researchers, which verified the impact of RH5.

This story received significant coverage in Australian media.

New Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies study begins


Image: Sister Rosemary, Dr Joshua Vogel and Professor Caroline Homer at Paparatava Health Centre, East New Britain, PNG.

Burnet’s innovative flagship research program, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) is rolling out a new study designed to improve health services, especially antenatal, labour and birth, in East New Britain (ENB) province in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The HMHB Quality of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Newborn Health Services Study, known locally as the ‘Gutpela Sevis’ study, is using a participatory, partnership defined approach to improve quality of maternal and newborn care.

“The first part of this approach is building partnerships and engaging facilities with the project,” Burnet researcher and Public Health Registrar, Dr Alyce Wilson said. “It’s also important to hear their ideas about this approach and data collection, to assess the current quality of care.”

Find out more about HMHB and how you can support our work.

Burnet hosted a World Hepatitis Day symposium in July, focusing on focuses on community-based approaches to elimination. Presenters said hepatitis C elimination efforts were hindered by a decline in testing, as well as stigma and ease of access to testing in primary care settings.


Hep C bloods

First national hepatitis report reveals progress

The first national report on progress towards the elimination of hepatitis C virus in Australia highlights the great strides Australia has made towards hepatitis C elimination over the past two to three years, with over 70,000 Australians having accessed curative therapies known as direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) by the end of 2018.

Hepatitis C is a significant public health issue in Australia, currently affecting over 160,000 people.

Before direct-acting antivirals were available to all Medicare-eligible Australians with chronic hepatitis C infection on 1st March 2016, there was a growing number of people living with hepatitis C, a rising burden of liver disease, and increasing rates of liver cancer and premature deaths attributed to long-term hepatitis C infection.

Prepared by Burnet Institute and the Kirby Institute, the report highlights this is now changing with declining numbers of new hepatitis C infections occurring each year.

TB diagnostic trial a potential lifesaver

Image: Laboratory scientist Nomin-Dora Tenakanai operates the Truenat device at the Partnership In Health laboratory in Port Moresby

Recruitment commenced in PNG for a trial supported by Burnet Institute and the National TB program of PNG of a new and potentially life-saving rapid diagnostic for tuberculosis (TB).

The battery-powered and phone-operated device, called the Truenat, developed by Molbio Diagnostics India, can detect TB and antibiotic-resistant TB from sputum samples in one-to-two hours.

It’s designed to address an urgent need for accurate, cheaper, point-of-care TB diagnostics for use in rural and remote settings in a country like PNG as an alternative to laboratory-based instruments such as the GeneXpert diagnostic, which is currently available only in district and provincial hospitals across the country, and less reliable microscopy tests.


Burnet partners with Egypt for hepatitis workshop

Image: Collaborators from eight countries convened in Cairo to discuss viral hepatitis elimination initiatives

Burnet Institute joined with Egyptian partners to deliver a three-day workshop to showcase and share lessons about hepatitis B and C elimination programs across Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Led by Ain Shams University, the National Research Centre Egypt, and Burnet hepatitis researchers, the Cairo workshop brought together colleagues from several countries to discuss efforts to eliminate hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the new era of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatments.

Burnet Deputy Director Professor Margaret Hellard AM, said the advent of DAA treatments has presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to eliminate HCV infection as a global public health threat.

PNG breaks new ground in tuberculosis research

Image: One of the new authors, Deputy Chief Physician (New Guinea Islands), NDoH, Dr Al Maha

The publication of the first compendium of studies on TB in PNG marked a watershed for scientific research in the field and the development of future leaders for the national response to this pressing public health crisis.

The studies focus on a broad range of issues relating to TB across seven provinces, and collectively represent an important resource for health planning and policy in PNG. The authors all work in TB as clinicians, scientists and administrators, but had never previously published research.

The authors are all PNG nationals, who are invested in their communities and committed to the elimination of TB.


Evidence backs women’s choice on where to have their babies

Image credit: Engin Akyurt, Pixabay

Healthy women have more than twice the chance of a normal labour and birth in a planned birth centre birth compared to a planned hospital birth, a major Australian study has found.

The study of more than 1.2 million Australian births provides new evidence about the safety of places of birth, especially birth centres and home birth, and supports the development of safe midwife-led birth options for healthy women.

Compared with planned hospital births, the odds of normal labour and birth were more than twice as high in planned birth centre births and nearly six times as high in planned home births.

Tall Poppy award for Dr Joseph Doyle

Burnet Institute Deputy Program Director, Disease Elimination, and Co-Head of the Viral Hepatitis Elimination Group, Dr Joseph Doyle has been honoured with a prestigious Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) Tall Poppy Award.


Research Excellence Award for Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Brendan Crabb GSK

Burnet Institute Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC has been acknowledged for his ground-breaking malaria research with the prestigious 2019 GSK Award for Research Excellence.

Professor Crabb was presented with the award at Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards 2019 in Melbourne for his research to better understand the DNA of the malaria parasite, which has transformed how scientists explore malaria prevention and treatments globally.

In the lead-up to World AIDS Day on 1 December, Burnet had a number of successes in the HIV field to share.

Expanded rollout for HIV Toolkit

The rolling out of an innovative toolkit, developed to support HIV peer counsellors in Papua New Guinea, across the country in partnership with US NGO, FHI 360, has been welcomed as an opportunity to improve HIV management.

Designed to help people living with HIV to provide counselling, particularly for people who have been newly-diagnosed, the kit has been trialled over the past 12 months in a pilot program in clinics in Port Moresby and Mount Hagen.

Burnet Deputy Program Director (Behaviours and Health Risks), Lisa Davidson said FHI recognised the benefits of the resource and have agreed to produce it so that it can be implemented as a national program.

Global Fund approval for HIV diagnostic

A simple, low-cost, rapid HIV diagnostic developed by Burnet and commercialised by our partners at Omega Diagnostics, UK, has been endorsed by the Expert Review Panel for Diagnostics (ERPD), hosted by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

This means that the test may be procured with Global Fund and/or UNITAID funds, which support major aid agencies operating in many of the poorest countries in the world.

“It gives the green light for aid agencies delivering HIV care to tens of millions of people in disadvantaged communities around the world to take advantage of this innovation.” - Associate Professor David Anderson.


Vale Jimmy Dorabjee

It’s with deep sadness that Burnet Institute acknowledged the passing of Jimmy Dorabjee, a former senior staff member, researcher, passionate advocate for harm reduction, and larger-than-life character, who exemplified Burnet’s mission.

Read a touching tribute from Jimmy’s close friend and colleague, Burnet’s Head of International Operations, Professor Robert Power.

Fenner Award to Dr Paul Gilson

Fenner Award

Image: Dr Paul Gilson (left) is presented with the 2019 Frank Fenner Award by Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Dr Paul Gilson cast himself as ‘the conductor’ and thanked his students for their outstanding contribution to his laboratory’s research in accepting Burnet Institute’s highest individual honour, the Frank Fenner Award for 2019.

The Head of Burnet’s Cell Imaging Facility, Co-Head of Burnet’s Malaria Virulence and Drug Discovery Group, and Co-Head (with Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC) of the Gilson/Crabb Laboratory, Dr Gilson has a special interest and expertise in how malaria parasites invade and thrive in human red blood cells and avoid host immunity.

Thanks for your support!

A HUGE thanks to all our supporters, collaborators, staff and students for making 2019 a wonderful year for Burnet and assisting us on our mission to achieve better health for vulnerable communities in Australia and internationally.

THANKS! Your support makes a huge difference to what we can achieve.

Contact Details

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Burnet Institute

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