Deadly virus gets urgent research attention


More than $3 million in funding for Hendra virus-focused research projects was announced on the weekend by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Monash researchers will lead three of the eight new projects.

Associate Professor Anthony Purcell from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology was awarded $637,000 to examine the immune response of the virus’s natural host, the fruit bat. The bats show no apparent symptoms of the virus, but are able to pass it on to horses and humans.

Associate Professor Hans Netter, from the Department of Microbiology, received $368,000 in funding. The team will conduct comparative research in bat and human cell lines to recognise differences in virus-host cell interactions.

Professor Netter said that an understanding of the interactions between the viral pathogen and the host would allow the identification of mechanisms which contribute to disease progression.

“This has an immediate importance for the public, as the identification and characterisation of the virus-host interactions are a prerequisite for effective drug discovery strategies,” Professor Netter said.

Dr Fasseli Coulibaly, also of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology was awarded more than $300,000 to investigate the structure of viral proteins that allow the virus to multiply in infected cells.

The Hendra virus is named after the Brisbane suburb where it was discovered in 1994. A number of outbreaks have occurred since, most recently in May.

There is no cure for the disease that has claimed the lives of four people and more than 50 horses. 

The NHMRC funding follows the council’s recent Urgent Call for Research into the Hendra Virus. Following a rigorous review process, the best research proposals were given immediate access to funding.

Monash University.