New Vaccine brings hopes to millions

Tropical diseases kill tens of thousands of people each year, but a research breakthrough by an Australian  scientist could help reduce this number significantly.

Queensland-based diseases expert, Dr Mark Pearson, has  invented and developed a ground-breaking vaccine to fight the deadly Schistosoma mansoni parasite, which infects around 200 million people in developing countries each year.

Schistosomiasis, the disease caused by the parasite,  can damage vital organs and impair growth rates in children. It is often contracted in developing countries when  people swim in infected water.

Dr Pearson, recipient of Research Australia's Griffith University Discovery Award, jointly discovered the lead vaccine antigen for the human schistosomiasis vaccine. The vaccine is currently being  developed in the United States and is expected to enter clinical trials next year.

Currently working at the  Queensland Tropical Health Alliance at James Cook University, Pearson is also part of the Human Hookworm Vaccine  Initiative.

His work in this area has led to the development of a hookworm vaccine that will also enter  human clinical trials in 2011. These trials arebeing funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Medical  researchers estimate more than 576 million people around the world suffer from hookworms. These lcm-long worms attach themselves to a person's intestinal wall and feed on blood. If not treated, they can lead to severe  malnutrition and even death. Griffith University Pro Vice Chancellor (Health) Professor Allan Cripps, says the  Research Australia award was recognition of Dr Pearson's outstanding research career.

"I hope Dr Pearson's  potentially lifechanging work will motivate and inspire others," he says.

"It is important to recognise vital work which saves lives, heals sick and injured people while also making significant economic contributions when this knowledge is exported."

Opened in 2009, the Queensland Tropical Health Alliance, where Dr Pearson is based, brings together researchers from a variety of universities and medical institutes. Its aim is to improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of existing and emerging tropical diseases.

Published in The Weekend Australian, December 4-5 2010, article by Ian Grayson.

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