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QIMR Berghofer scientist takes out prestigious Eureka Prize

A team led by QIMR Berghofer scientist Professor Scott Bell has won the Infectious Diseases Research category at this year’s Eureka Prizes.

The prestigious gong was announced at a ceremony in Sydney last night (29 August).

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes recognise excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership, science engagement and school science.

Professor Bell’s research into the transmission of resistant lung bacteria between cystic fibrosis (CF) patients has changed policy and practice in the treatment of CF patients and the design of CF clinics.

The research was a collaboration involving QIMR Berghofer, the Metro North Hospital and Health Service (The Prince Charles Hospital), Children’s Health Queensland, The University of Queensland, Griffith University, Gold Coast Health and the Queensland University of Queensland.

Professor Bell – who is the head of QIMR Berghofer’s Lung Bacteria Laboratory, and a respiratory physician at Brisbane’s The Prince Charles Hospital – said he was honoured and humbled to be recognised with a Eureka Prize.

“People with cystic fibrosis are highly prone to lung infections because they have a lot of mucus in their lungs, which is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria,” he said.

“It was previously believed these infections didn’t spread easily between CF patients, but by using a purpose-built ‘cough laboratory’ (built by our QUT colleagues), we found that in fact these infections may be spread between patients through cough aerosols.

“We found that when patients cough, tiny infection-containing droplets (aerosols) can travel several metres and remain suspended in the air for up to 45 minutes. We’ve also found that wearing protective masks stops the potential spread of about 95 per cent of cough aerosol particles.

“These findings are already being used to guide policy and practice on contact between patients with CF and the design of clinics to prevent the spread of infection.

“Our findings are likely to also have broader implications for the spread of infections within hospitals and workplaces.

“It has been an honour to make this contribution to the field and I am delighted that our Brisbane-based team has been recognised with such a prestigious award.”

QIMR Berghofer’s Acting Director, Professor David Whiteman, has congratulated Professor Bell and his team.

“Professor Bell’s and the CF Air team’s research has truly been game changing. The results of his highly innovative research will vastly improve the quality of life for CF patients.”