Australian, Singapore researchers join hands to combat disease-causing bugs

Published on April 12, 2013 at 4:44 AM · No Comments

5 research teams in Australia and Singapore awarded A*STAR-NHMRC joint grant to design ways to combat disease-causing bugs

The fight against a number of significant infectious diseases in the Asia-Pacific region has been given a boost through a new research collaboration between the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia (NHMRC) and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore.

Joint funding of S$4.5 million (AUD$3.5 million) will support five research teams based in Australia and Singapore working on research projects that will address infectious diseases including tuberculosis, dengue fever and influenza.

These diseases were identified as significant threats to public health in the Asia Pacific region at the A*STAR-NHMRC Joint Symposium 2012 on Combating Emerging Infectious Diseases through Integrative Technology Approaches held last year.

"Infectious diseases affect the health and productivity of hundreds and thousands of people in Australia and around the region each year. This collaboration demonstrates Australia's capacity to join other world-leading research bodies and achieve much more than if countries tried to tackle these issues individually" NHMRC CEO, Professor Warwick Anderson said.

"The theme of infectious diseases is a topical and timely one. Our experience in the past decade with SARS, avian flu and H1N1 has taught us that in an increasingly connected world, understanding and managing emerging infectious diseases are a matter of highest priority for all countries. By partnering with our colleagues from Australia, we will be able to develop new approaches to better combat these threats to this region and the world," said A*STAR Chairman, Mr Lim Chuan Poh.

Tuberculosis (TB) is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent. Multi-drug resistant TB is present in virtually all countries.

Dr. Sarah Dunstan of the University of Melbourne and Associate Professor Teo Yik Ying of the National University of Singapore (NUS) will receive AU$379,279 and S$477,580 to provide knowledge critical for the design of treatments and vaccines for tuberculosis.

"In working with our colleagues from Australia, we hope to demonstrate the capability that Singapore has in terms of using genomic technology to understand, to monitor, and ultimately to develop further treatments and effective healthcare policies for any infectious disease," Associate Professor Teo said.

"Our project is important for the insights it will provide on how the host and the bacteria interact to cause TB disease. Understanding this interaction is crucial to drive developments in vaccine and drug design. With the ever-increasing connectivity between countries, new vaccines and therapeutics would not only greatly impact the control efforts in the TB high burden countries within our region, but also provide protection against TB resurfacing in Singapore and Australia due to travel and migration," Dr Dunstan added.

Professor Jamie Rossjohn of Monash University and Dr. Lucia Mori of A*STAR's Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) will receive AU$329,673 and S$393,000 to develop new strategies targeting tuberculosis (TB).

"Since 2007, the number of new reported TB cases in Singapore has increased by 22%, reaching 1,533 in 2011. The emergence of multi-drug-resistant TB is a serious public health challenge. Together with the Australian scientists, we are embarking on a multi-disciplinary approach to study how immune cells combat TB infection and develop new TB vaccines," Dr. Mori said.

"The project, forged from a strong Singapore-Australian alliance, will provide important biomedical insight into how lipid reactive T-cells play a role in combating TB infection," Professor Rossjohn added.

About half of the world's population is now at risk of dengue. The infection causes flu-like illness, and occasionally develops into a potentially lethal complication. There is no vaccine.

Professor Cameron Simmons of University of Melbourne and Dr. Khor Chiea Chuen of A*STAR's Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) will receive AU$304,673 and S$483,000 to work on predicting patients at risk of severe dengue.

Said Dr. Khor, "The funding of this project is very timely as it will help us understand more about the mechanisms of Dengue infection in this part of the world. Only by improving our understanding can we attempt to use the new knowledge to help patients," Dr. Khor said.

"Dengue is major public health problem across much of the tropical world and we're delighted to be teaming with our colleagues in Singapore to address major knowledge gaps in understanding why some dengue patients develop severe, life-threatening complications," Professor Simmons added.

Professor Ken Shortman of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and Dr. Sylvie Alonso of the National University of Singapore (NUS) will receive AU$382,653 and S$445,200 to develop improved vaccines against virus diseases such as dengue, hand foot and mouth disease and influenza.

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