Monash researcher wins prestigious Commonwealth Health Minister's Award

Sexual health researcher Eric Chow has won the 2020 Commonwealth Health Minister's Award for Excellence for his work on understanding transmission and control of STIs.

Monash University’s Associate Professor Eric Chow has received the 2020 Commonwealth Health Minister's Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research for this work in the control of sexually transmitted infections. The award is given annually to the top-ranked recipient of National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Investigator Grants and includes a further $50,000 for research.

Associate Professor Chow’s research aims to improve treatment, prevention and control of sexually transmitted infections (STI), with a particular interest in gonorrhoea, syphilis and human papillomavirus (HPV). He is currently conducting clinical trials to examine whether antiseptic mouthwash could be used as a novel treatment and preventive strategy for gonorrhoea.

STIs are rising rapidly in Australia, and it is disproportionately affecting gay and bisexual men. Over the last decade, the infectious syphilis notification rate increased by 366% (from 5 per 100,000 in 2010 to 23.3 per 100,000 in 2019) and the infectious syphilis notification rate increased by 192% (46.9 per 100,000 in 2010 to 137.1 per 100,000 in 2019). Some infections are also showing antibiotic resistance, making some STIs such as gonorrhoea difficult to treat and possibly untreatable in the future.

Associate Professor Chow’s work has completely changed what is known about how gonorrhoea is transmitted, revealing that saliva can act as a transport medium. His research discovered that kissing, but not sex, is the leading risk factor for throat gonorrhoea, which has never been recognised in the 100 years since the bacteria was identified.
This work led to a NHMRC-funded clinical trial examining the effectiveness of mouthwash as a potential preventive strategy for throat gonorrhoea. If it is shown to be effective, the use of antibiotics can be reduced in the era of multidrug resistance.

Over the next five years, Associate Professor Chow’s work will focus on halting the rapidly rising rates of STIs in Australia by using a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the transmission dynamics of STI and exploring novel interventions for STI prevention and control.

He is also studying how the COVID-19 lockdown impacts on HIV and STI diagnoses as well as sexual practices among Australians.

President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Margaret Gardner AC, congratulated Associate Professor Chow on this distinguished award.

“The Commonwealth Health Minister's Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research is a testament to Associate Professor Chow's commitment towards making a real impact on the lives of those living with such serious health conditions, and to the safety of the broader community.

"Awards such as this confirm Monash University's international reputation as a leader in transformative research that provides great benefit to communities around the world," Professor Gardner said.

"My congratulations to Associate Professor Chow on this remarkable and well-deserved recognition."

Provost and Senior Vice-President, Professor Marc Parlange, congratulated Associate Professor Chow on his achievement.

“The Commonwealth Health Minister's Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research is among the most prestigious of awards for Australian researchers. This wonderful recognition for Associate Professor Chow is a testament to the excellence of his research and the transformative contribution he is bringing to the field of sexual health,” Professor Parlange said.

“My warmest congratulations to Associate Professor Chow and his team, and to the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences.”

“I am very surprised and honoured to be one of the researchers to receive this prestigious award from the NHMRC. This award recognises and highlights the importance of STI research as well as the quality and innovation of work that my team and I are doing.”

“I would not have received the NHMRC Research Excellence Awards without the support from my colleagues at the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, and also my mentor Professor Christopher Fairley, AO. Our work has the potential to reduce the burden of sexually transmitted infections and also to improve the lives of affected individuals,” he said.

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See also 29 June 2020 NHMRC story: