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Australian expertise crucial in disease fight


Australian expertise is a crucial part of an international project aiming to develop therapies against two deadly viruses.

With funding from the United States’ National Institutes of Health (NIH), and in collaboration with a research team led by Dr Christopher Broder at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda Maryland, CSIRO Livestock Industries’ Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong is attempting to develop treatments against Hendra virus and Nipah virus.

CSIRO’s Dr Bruce Mungall says that Hendra and Nipah are two newly discovered paramyxoviruses which pose a serious threat to human health.

Hendra virus killed two people in Queensland in 1994/95 and recently re-emerged in the State. A Cairns vet has recovered after being infected by Hendra virus during an autopsy on a horse in October, and in December, Hendra virus was confirmed in a dead horse from the Townsville area. Nipah virus killed more than 100 people in Malaysia in 1999 and re-emerged again in 2001 and 2004 in Bangladesh killing up to 75 per cent of people infected.

Dr Mungall says that while the Malaysian outbreak of Nipah virus was believed to be transmitted from bats to pigs to humans, there is evidence that the Bangladesh outbreaks involved direct bat-to-human and possibly human-to-human transmission. "There are no vaccines available for Hendra virus or Nipah virus and no anti-viral drugs available to treat paramyxoviruses in general," Dr Mungall says.
Collaborative research has identified proteins which inhibit the ability of Hendra virus and Nipah virus to enter and replicate within cells. Experiments using cells grown in culture have demonstrated that these proteins are highly effective at preventing both Nipah and Hendra virus infection. Using these virus-inhibiting proteins, the international team is now attempting to develop potent anti-viral therapies against Hendra virus and Nipah virus. "We hope to use these proteins to develop an effective therapy to protect people against disease," Dr Mungall says.

In a related project, researchers have shown that antibodies recognising one of the virus proteins are capable of neutralising the virus and preventing the virus infecting cells. "This is a crucial first step towards developing a vaccine against Nipah virus and Hendra virus," he says. The therapies are being developed at the highest level of biosecurity (BSL4), with scientists wearing airtight plastic suits while working inside special sealed laboratories.

Research at AAHL is funded by the Australian Federal Government, via CSIRO and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and also by industry organisations and commercial companies.

More information:
Dr Bruce Mungall, CSIRO Livestock Industries + 613 5227 5431

Rosie Schmedding | CSIRO Media
Further information:

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