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02 Sep 2021

Doherty Institute researchers announced as finalists for the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes

A team of Doherty Institute researchers have been named as finalists for the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes for showing how the immune system fights COVID-19.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards, honouring excellence across the areas of research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science.

University of Melbourne Professor Katherine Kedzierska a Laboratory Head at the Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne Dr Oanh Nguyen a Research Fellow at the Doherty Institute and Royal Melbourne Hospital Infectoius Disesase Physician Dr Irani Thevarajan from the Victorian Infectious Diseases Service at the Doherty Institute have been named as finalists for the 2021 Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research for their work which mapped immune responses from one of Australia’s first novel coronavirus (COVID-19) patients and showed the body’s ability to fight the virus and recover from the infection.

Their research, which was published in Nature Medicine, looked at the blood samples of one of Australia’s first COVID-19 cases at four different time points and mapped a detailed report of how the body responded to the virus.

Dr Nguyen, a joint-first author on the paper, said it was the first time that broad immune responses to COVID-19 have been reported.

“We looked at the whole breadth of the immune response in this patient using the knowledge we have built over many years of looking at immune responses in patients hospitalised with influenza,” Dr Nguyen said.

“Three days after the patient was admitted, we saw large populations of several immune cells, which are often a tell-tale sign of recovery during seasonal influenza infection, so we predicted that the patient would recover in three days, which is what happened.”

Working together with Professor Kedzierska, a world-leading influenza immunology researcher, the team were able to dissect the immune response leading to successful recovery from COVID-19.

The research team were able to do this so rapidly thanks to SETREP-ID (Sentinel Travellers and Research Preparedness for Emerging Infectious Disease), led by Dr Thevarajan at the Doherty Institute.

Dr Thevarajan had already established the platform which enables of broad range of biological sampling to take place in returned travellers in the event of a new and unexpected infectious disease outbreak, which is exactly how COVID-19 started in Australia.

“When COVID-19 emerged, we already had ethics and protocols in place so we could rapidly start looking at the virus and immune system in great detail,” Dr Thevarajan said.

Professor Kedzierska explained that the resulting publication was an incredible step forward in understanding what drives recovery of COVID-19 and indicative of how important collaboration has been throughout the pandemic.

“It’s fantastic the whole team is receiving recognition for this pioneering research into COVID-19 through the Australian Museum Eureka Prize nomination,” Professor Kedzierska said.

The winners will be announced at a virtual award ceremony on Thursday, 7 October.