2015 in Review: July - December

Burnet Institute

30 December, 2015

It was with deep sadness Burnet Institute acknowledged the passing of Alastair Lucas AO. The former Burnet Chairman from 2002-2014, died peacefully on 6 July, aged 63, after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour late last year. Alastair was a much loved and committed member of the Burnet Institute family.

Scientists Professor James Beeson and Dr Jack Richards identified an important mechanism by which human antibodies are able to stop malaria from invading red blood cells and causing disease – a potentially significant step in the quest for effective malaria vaccines.

Associate Professor Anthony Jaworowski and his team have identified the type of monocyte - white blood cells critical to immune function - best equipped to attack the malaria parasite, along with new insights into how the monocyte carries out this task.

The evidence-based interventions of Burnet’s Drop-in Centres in Myanmar aimed at reducing the harmful consequences of a drug injector’s lifestyle were resoundingly endorsed by Burnet’s Head, Centre for International Health, Professor Robert Power.

Burnet Institute played a key role in the development of new tests to measure exposure to the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum (Pf), essential to guide and evaluate malaria control interventions.

Rob Milne was appointed Burnet Chair, pledging to do all in his power to honour the ‘amazing contribution’ of the man he succeeded, the late Alastair Lucas AO.

Burnet Institute developed a new diagnostic test to inform the safe use of antimalarial drugs and researcher James O’Connell travelled to Dhaka, Bangladesh to train staff at the International Centre for Diarrheal Diseases in its use.

Burnet’s investment partners in Nanjing BioPoint Diagnostics Technology Co. Ltd, the Beijing GuoMinXinHe Group, committed their support as a Founding Partner of the Alastair Lucas Endowment Fund. GuoMinXinHe Group joined Goldman Sachs Australia and Macquarie Group as Founding Partners of the Endowment Fund, named in honour of Burnet’s former long-standing Chair and passionate advocate, Alastair Lucas AO.

The Australian Capital Territory’s innovative opioid overdose management program, which makes take-home naloxone available to potential opioid overdose victims, was overwhelmingly endorsed by an independent evaluation supported by Burnet Institute.

An innovative Burnet Institute program training older community members as ‘Eye Health Promoters’ (EHPs) has significantly improved thousands of lives in the Sri Lankan highlands. The Better Vision and Healthy Ageing Program is a collaboration of government and NGO partners and funded by The Fred Hollows Foundation. It has helped distribute more than 2000 pairs of spectacles and facilitated more than 260 cataract operations.

A Burnet Institute study led by Associate Professor Melissa Churchill and Dr Lachlan Gray revealed treatments currently being trialled as a potential cure for HIV are less effective on the HIV virus in the brain compared to that found in the blood.

Professor Brendan Crabb AC and Professor James Beeson, received a prestigious NHMRC Research Excellence Award for the Highest Ranked Program Grant for 2014 as members of a team seeking to develop improved strategies to prevent and treat malaria.

Burnet Institute created a new laboratory for HIV Immunometabolism headed by Dr Clovis Palmer. The Palmer Laboratory, within the Centre for Biomedical Research, will focus on the metabolic defects of immune cells in patients who are infected with HIV.

Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet, Dr Richard Horton delivered a Burnet Oration to remember leaving the capacity audience inspired about a revolution for health. Dr Horton emphasised the importance of addressing climate change for the survival of our civilisation.

The Burnet Institute’s ImmunoMonitoring Facility (IMF) and Innoviron Pty Ltd were excited to announce the launch of 360biolabs Pty Ltd, a Melbourne-based contract research organisation (CRO). An independent company, 360biolabs combined the strengths and experience of the Burnet IMF with Innoviron’s (ex-Biota) commercially-focused, anti-infective expertise.

Burnet helped to address a steady rise in HIV in the Philippines through the development of a series of demonstration sites for new health service delivery models for adolescent key populations.

A diverse range of speakers from Scotland, England, NSW and Victoria shared their insights at this year’s CREIDU Colloquium centred on Prisons: Opportunities and challenges towards improving the health of people who inject drugs.

Burnet scientists were awarded the major prize at Alfred Medical Research and Education Precinct (AMREP) Health Week for their research into a protein essential to the growth of malaria parasites. The basic science AMREP Research Prize was accepted by Dr Paul Gilson for the paper PTEX is an essential nexus for protein export in malaria parasites, which was originally published in the journal Nature.

A commemorative trek to raise funds to assist Burnet’s work in Myanmar was officially launched in Sydney. Inspired by the mass exodus of refugees from Burma during World War II, The Colin McPhedran Trek was conceived by two Melburnians, Kevin Commins and Michael Clarebrough.

World-leading infectious disease modeller, Professor David Wilson joined Burnet Institute heading up a team that will work across the Institute’s three centres.

Burnet Institute researchers were awarded $5.5 million in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grants scheme at a success rate among Australia’s best. The grants are among $630 million in NHMRC funding for 836 projects nationally announced today by Federal Health Minister, Sussan Ley.

Burnet Institute researchers Dr Jack Richards and Dr Alexandra Rodriguez established a new diagnostic service for sexually transmitted infections (STI) in Timor Leste using world-class approaches that amplify the DNA of these bacterial infections.

Professor James Beeson’s contribution to medical research was recognised with the Institute’s prestigious Fenner Award.

Professor David Wilson was awarded the 2016 Gustav Nossal Medal for Global Health by the Australian Academy of Science. The award recognised outstanding and innovative research in the use of mathematical modelling to influence policies and practices for national governments around the world and global health funding decisions.

In a deeply personal and passionate keynote speech at the 2015 World AIDS Day launch in Melbourne, Burnet Institute’s Dr Clovis Palmer asked for a shared commitment to reach the ambitious goal of ‘Getting to Zero’.

Associate Professor Mark Stoové welcomed the announcement that Melbourne is to become Australia’s first Fast-Track City, committed to reaching the Joint United Nations targets on reducing HIV and stigma and discrimination.

Burnet Senior Principal Research Fellow Professor Steve Graham was honoured with one of the premier global prizes for tuberculosis research, the Karel Styblo Public Health Prize.

Burnet Institute research aimed at reducing the high rate of maternal and infant deaths in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is set to benefit from a generous donation from the state-owned Mineral Resources Development Company (MRDC). MRDC’s 100,00 Kina (AUD$46,000) donation will support Burnet’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Program (HMHB), currently in the first phase of a five-year program in Kokopo, East New Britain.

It was announced PRONTO! would integrate screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

New cure treatments for hepatitis C will now be available for every Australian living with the disease thanks to a landmark Federal Government decision. Currently costing patients thousands of dollars, the direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs) will now be available through the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS), making Australia one of the first countries to make them publicly subsidised.