Professor Ruth Bishop

An immunology researcher focused on creating new vaccines to tackle bacteria that cause intestinal illnesses has been selected as the inaugural Ruth Bishop Fellow.

Dr Nancy Wang was awarded the new five-year fellowship, the result of a collaboration between Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support a mid-career female vaccinology researcher.

Researcher of new vaccines Dr Nancy Wang

Image: Dr Nancy Wang

The fellowship honours the legacy of the late Professor Ruth Bishop AC, an eminent scientist and microbiologist who in 1973 discovered that rotavirus was the cause of a deadly form of severe gastroenteritis that greatly affects young  children. Professor Bishop would later work alongside MCRI researchers to develop an oral rotavirus vaccine.

Dr Wang specialises in immune cell biology and the prevention of infections caused by salmonella and other bacteria. Her research has involved training immune ‘T cells’ to select and remember parts of the bacteria, so the body can quickly remember how to fight off future infections.

The findings could help inform new vaccines against typhoid fever and other enteric diseases, striking an effective balance between a strong immune response and high tolerability (fewer and milder side effects).

Dr Wang’s career has extended from the University of Melbourne, Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research to international laboratories at the University of Oxford, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Bonn.

Dr Wang said she was inspired by Professor Bishop’s trailblazing vaccinology work and intended to make a significant impact of her own as her research work progresses.

Professor Ruth Bishop, who helped develop the Rotavirus vaccine

Image: Professor Ruth Bishop

“As infectious disease rates and antibiotic resistance rise, we need cutting-edge research to develop new and innovative prevention strategies, especially in low and middle-income countries,” she said.

“I am proud to walk in the footsteps of Professor Bishop and have access to MCRI’s world-class lab spaces and cutting-edge technology to make impactful discoveries in immunology, vaccinology and global health.”

Dr Wang will receive laboratory and technical support to conduct her research at MCRI and have access to professional development and team-building opportunities.

Director of Enterics, Diagnostics, Genomics & Epidemiology at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Gagandeep Kang said, “Professor Ruth Bishop’s discovery of rotavirus as the major agent causing severe diarrhoea in young children changed the course of history and even inspired the very formation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This new fellowship, in her name, will see the torch passed down to the next generation of vaccinology leaders.

“We congratulate Dr Nancy Wang on being the very first Ruth Bishop Fellow and are excited to see her champion gender equity in the sector and develop innovative new preventative strategies against infectious disease.”

MCRI’s Director of Infection, Immunity & Global Health Professor Andrew Steer said he was thrilled to see what Dr Wang would achieve over the next five years.

“We warmly welcome Dr Wang’s further contributions to the health and medical research precinct here in Parkville, with additional opportunities and collaborations on offer through MCRI,” he said.

“This prestigious fellowship honours an icon in global health and will ultimately help Dr Wang, and MCRI more broadly, develop new tools and strategies to prevent serious infections and save lives.”

Read more about MCRI’s work across infectious disease and vaccine development.

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