Winner Hendra Virus Research Team, CSIRO

First vaccine and treatment against Hendra virus, and first vaccine against any biosafety-level-4 disease

With a human death rate over 50 per cent, and an ability to cross species, the Hendra virus that emerged in 1994 had frightening potential. CSIRO quickly identified the new virus, 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. Their creation of the vaccine and treatment has won them the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research.

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: four of the eight people who have contracted the disease have died, as have 75 per cent of horses.

“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 (and the closely related and highly lethal Nipah virus which killed more than 100 people in a Malaysian outbreak in 1999), 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 people from animals. While the current list of known emerging infectious diseases is a major concern, it is viruses—currently unknown—with a potential for efficient human-to-human 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.

Watch their YouTube video

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