Dr Yara-Natalie AboMurdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) PhD student Dr Yara-Natalie Abo has received funding to advance a vaccine for a common bacterial infection that if untreated could result in severe heart disease.

The National Heart Foundation announced Dr Abo as a recipient of its new $122,100 PhD Scholarship, which supports successful applicants to attain a research-based postgraduate degree and advance their cardiovascular health and medical research.

In addition, the foundation named Dr Abo as the recipient of its $30,000 Excellence Award, which is awarded to the top-ranking PhD project submitted to the scholarship. 

Dr Abo said the project aimed to advance the development of a Strep A vaccine and help prevent rheumatic heart disease.  

There is currently no vaccine available to prevent Strep A infection and rheumatic heart disease. Strep A is bacterium often found in the throat and on the skin. This bacterium causes infections like sore throat (Strep throat) and skin infections, which are common in school-aged children.

Although Strep A infections may be treated with antibiotics, it continues to cause severe life-threatening infections and post-infectious complications such as rheumatic heart disease, causing more than 500,000 deaths per year. More than 30 million people are currently living with rheumatic heart disease. In Australia, the disease disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, especially in remote and rural areas.  

Children aged between five and 14 years are most likely to get a rheumatic fever, the forerunner of rheumatic heart disease, which can cause inflammation of the heart, joints, and brain. After an episode of rheumatic fever monthly injections for a minimum of 10 years are required to try and prevent further infections and worsened rheumatic heart disease.

Dr Abo said she hoped that a Strep A vaccine would prevent the infections that lead to rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

Dr Abo will test Strep A vaccines in a randomised human challenge trial, giving the vaccine or a placebo to healthy adult participants in a controlled environment. They will have Strep A painted on their throats and carefully monitored to see if they develop strep throat.

This study will build on Murdoch Children's Professor Andrew Steer and Dr Josh Osowicki's work and will use the Strep A human infection model they helped create.  

Dr Abo will start her scholarship on January 1, 2022.