The Heart Foundation has given $2.8 million to infectious disease researchers, who are developing a vaccine against strep A, the highly contagious bacteria that causes 350,000 deaths annually through rheumatic heart disease (RHD).

Griffith University has developed two potential strep A vaccines which will soon be tested through a controlled human infection model that has been developed by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI).

"Strep A is almost as deadly as malaria parasites, tuberculosis bacteria and HIV but globally little has been invested in strep A research," said Prof Michael Good from Griffith University's Institute for Glycomics.

"The Heart Foundation funds will enable researchers from Griffith University and MCRI to do groundbreaking human clinical trial to test vaccines for strep A."

Infectious diseases expert Professor Andrew Steer, from MCRI, said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have the highest rates of RHD in the world.

"Strep A usually begins with a very sore throat, but if left untreated it causes the immune system to become overactive, resulting in rheumatic heart disease, where antibodies damage the heart valves," he said.

"This affects more than 33 million people around the world, causing 300,000 deaths. That is why it's imperative we develop a vaccine."

Prof Steer said strep A infections take their biggest toll on vulnerable populations such as young people, women and those living in poverty.

"They are the three groups of people who don't have much of a voice in the global health scene," he said. "It has been left off the agenda."

Prof Good said rheumatic heart disease was prevalent in low and middle income countries.

"Rheumatic heart disease leads to serious complications such as stroke and premature death in adolescents and young adults," Prof Good said. "And while the disease is preventable, and treatable when found early, young people continue to die because it's detected too late."

Heart Foundation Group CEO, Adjunct Professor John Kelly, said the grant was made available through a generous bequest, with the benefactor wanting the funds to go to a stroke-related research project."

"We only considered innovative research that would make a significant global contribution to the prevention and treatment of stroke," Prof Kelly said. "There is no doubt this research meets that criteria and we are proud to continue supporting this ground-breaking project."

The funding comes on top of the MCRI becoming a key partner in a $35 million national consortium formed to fast track a vaccine against strep A.

Federal Minister for Indigenous Health, Ken Wyatt, recently awarded $35 million to the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth to the lead the consortium, with MCRI a key partner.

Available for interview:
• Professor Andrew Steer, MCRI
• Professor Michael Good, Institute for Glycomics, Griffith University

Media Contact
Bridie Byrne - MCRI communications specialist (media/PR)
+613 9936 6211 | 0403 664 416

Christine Tondorf - MCRI communications advisor (media/PR)
+613 9936 6197 | 0413 307 092