2014 In Review: July - December

Angus Morgan

22 December, 2014


The 20th International AIDS Society Conference, AIDS 2014, in Melbourne, dominated July.

On the eve of the conference, Burnet joined the international community in endorsing the Melbourne Declaration that non-discrimination is fundamental to an evidence-based, rights-based, and gender transformative response to HIV and effective public health programs.

Highlights of AIDS 2014 included the premiere of the documentary film Transmission: The journey from AIDS to HIV, by Swedish director Staffan Hildebrand; the promotion of the International Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (ISRHR) Consortium; the address by former US President Bill Clinton in which he declared his confidence in ‘the steady march to rid the world of AIDS’; Sir Bob Geldof’s keynote speech where he urged delegates to continue their good work; and tributes to the delegates lost in the Malaysian Airlines MH17 disaster.

Local Co-Chair and Burnet’s Co-Head of the Centre for Biomedical Research, Professor Sharon Lewin, said she was proud of what was achieved.


Malaria was a recurring theme for Burnet during August.

Burnet collaborator and malaria researcher, Dr Faith Osier was awarded the Royal Society Pfizer Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes for African scientists. Presented annually to a young scientist based in Africa, the award recognises research scientists making innovative contributions to the biological sciences, including basic medical science.

An opportunity to develop a new method for diagnosing malaria brought researchers from the University of Hong Kong and Burnet together in a new collaboration. The project seeks to develop a new point-of-care test, similar to the Burnet-developed VISITECT® CD4 HIV test.

Burnet Institute research revealed how antibodies can track down and ‘tag’ malaria in the bloodstream, helping the immune system identify and then destroy the malaria parasites. The finding advances the understanding of malaria immunity and is being applied to creating a vaccine.


Alastair Lucas

September started on a sombre note with the announcement that Burnet Chair, Mr Alastair Lucas AM, would be taking extended leave after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. Mr Lucas made his final public appearance at the launch of a campaign in support of the Medical Research Future Fund.

Fenner Award winner, Professor Robert Power delivered the 2014 Fenner Lecture entitled “Implementing research to further development: drugs, sex and participatory approaches,” in which he shared highlights from his fascinating career path. The Fenner Award is presented to a Burnet Institute staff member whose work has made a major contribution towards Burnet’s mission of achieving better health for poor and vulnerable communities.

After 11 years with Burnet, Professor Sharon Lewin formally took up her new role as the inaugural Director of the Doherty Institute, based at the University of Melbourne.

Burnet’s Dr Meredith O’Keeffe was awarded an NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship for her research into the immune system of bone marrow, while Professor James Beeson’s Fellowship for malaria immunity and vaccine research was renewed.


Alastair Lucas was appointed by the Federal Government to a panel of review into independent Medical Research Institutes [iMRIs] to identify efficiencies.

After two years as President of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes [AAMRI), Burnet Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb handed the AAMRI reins to his successor, Professor Doug Hilton.

Burnet Institute was awarded more than $7.6 million in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Grants.

A dramatic increase in the purity of crystal methamphetamine may explain why methamphetamine-related harms have increased in Victoria, according to a Burnet Institute study published in Addiction. The study identified a sharp rise in the purity of crystal methamphetamine available to users from January 2009 - June 2013.

In another study, the first of its kind in Australia, Burnet researchers surveyed the correlation between adolescents’ pornography viewing habits and sexual behaviour. Presented by Burnet’s Co-Head of Sexual Health Research, Dr Megan Lim, at the Australasian Sexual Health Conference, the study found that young people who consume pornography from a young age are more likely to engage in sexual behaviour early on.


Burnet Institute Associate Professor Heidi Drummer was appointed to the role of Deputy Head of the Centre for Biomedical Research.

Leading HIV scientist, infectious diseases physician and former Co-Head of Burnet Institute’s Centre for Biomedical Research, Professor Sharon Lewin, was named Melburnian of the Year for 2014.

In a landmark move, the World Health Organization launched its first-ever Guidelines on the Community Management of Opioid Overdose in a bid to prevent needless drug-related deaths. Professor Paul Dietze, Head of Alcohol and other Drug Research at Burnet Institute, and a Chief Investigator for The Centre for Research Excellence into Injecting Drug Use (CREIDU) was part of the WHO’s Guidelines Development Group.


New opportunities for networking and collaboration in HIV research were facilitated with the creation of a new body, the Melbourne HIV Exchange, or mHIVE. Open to all HIV researchers in Victoria, mHIVE was conceived by Burnet colleagues Professor Sharon Lewin and Associate Professor Gilda Tachedjian prior to Professor Lewin’s move to Doherty Institute in September.

Burnet Institute threw its support behind the revised funding package for the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund, while expressing disappointment with foreign aid budget cuts of $3.7 billion.

Burnet announced a collaborative study into the effectiveness of new hepatitis C medications in a community setting, supported by a multimillion-dollar research grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc. The Head of Burnet’s Centre for Population Health, Professor Margaret Hellard, said the health outcomes of more than 220,000 Australians infected with hepatitis C stand to benefit.