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Prestigious award for infectious disease research

Institute News
Thursday, November 21, 2019 - 9:21am

Professor Andrew Steer has been awarded a prestigious $1.25 million Viertel Fellowship for his research into reducing the impact of infectious tropical diseases, which affect millions of people worldwide.

Professor Steer, Theme Director of Infection and Immunity at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), was one of three mid-career Australian researchers to be recognised with a 2019 Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellowship.

The fellowship is amongst the most prestigious awards available to outstanding medical researchers in Australia.

Each fellow receives $1.25 million ($250,000 per year for five years) to support their important work which informs the development of new therapies in their areas of specialisation. 

Professor Andrew Steer, who welcomed the funding and support, said his application centred around his research into the public health control of two infectious diseases: Strep A and scabies.

MCRI is a key partner in a $35 million national consortium formed to fast track a vaccine against Strep A, the highly contagious bacterium that causes around 500,000 deaths every year.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have one of the highest rates of Strep A disease in the world.

“Strep A usually begins with a sore throat, but if left untreated it causes the immune system to become overactive, which can result in rheumatic heart disease, where antibodies damage the heart valves,” Professor Steer said.

MCRI has been working closely with the World Health Organisation to promote development of new vaccine candidates.

Scabies, a contagious, intensely itchy skin condition, affects hundreds of millions of people, but research led by MCRI and its partners had proven that it is possible to have a massive impact through treatment of whole populations.

Fiji and the Solomon Islands are among the world’s most affected countries. 

Research by Professor Steer and his team, conducted in partnership with the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney and the health ministries of Fiji and the Solomon Islands, has shown that the number of people with scabies in a community can be reduced by more than 90 per cent with a single mass treatment of ivermectin. The next phase is to expand this approach to larger populations.

Viertel Foundation’s Medical Advisory Board Chairman Professor Peter Leedman said the 2019 applications were of an extremely high standard.


Available for interview:
Professor Andrew Steer

Media Contact:

Bridie Byrne                                                                                       
MCRI communications specialist                                          
+613 9936 6211 / 0427 836 176                               
bridie.byrne@mcri.edu.au