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QIMR Berghofer researchers win prestigious Eureka Prize

QIMR Berghofer researchers are part of a team of scientists who have been awarded a highly prestigious Eureka Prize for their ground-breaking immunology research that could lead to better health outcomes for bone marrow and organ transplant patients.

The UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research was presented at an awards ceremony in Sydney.

The trans-Australian research team was led by QIMR Berghofer’s Professor Geoff Hill and Doctor Paulo Martins, and researchers from Monash University in Melbourne and the Lions Eye Institute in Perth.

The researchers made a breakthrough in understanding how the common herpes virus, Cytomegalovirus (CMV), reactivates and causes complications in immune-compromised patients.

The game-changing discovery was published earlier this year in the journal Science.

Cytomegalovirus reactivation is an expected complication that occurs after both stem cell and solid organ transplantation, because 50 to 70 per cent of the general population is infected with the virus.

Importantly, CMV reactivation can prove fatal for stem cell transplant recipients.

The researchers showed for the first time that antibodies can play a dominant role in controlling CMV reactivation, if they are matched to the strain of infecting virus.

Professor Hill, who headed QIMR Berghofer’s Bone Marrow Transplantation Laboratory, and is now the Director of Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation and the Immunotherapy Integrated Research Center at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said the prize was welcome recognition of the team’s efforts.

“We’re honoured to receive this prize which recognises the years of hard work our team and our collaborating colleagues put into this discovery,” Professor Hill said.

“Our study was a major advance for the virology and transplantation fields and should lead to new and cost-effective ways of preventing CMV reactivation in these vulnerable patients.

“This Eureka Prize draws attention to the amazing work coming out of Australian medical research institutes and the power of collaboration, combining complementary expertise in transplant immunology in Brisbane with viral immunology in Perth.”

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes honour excellence across the areas of research and innovation, leadership, science engagement, and school science.

The UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research is awarded to an individual or team for outstanding curiosity-driven scientific research.