Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti wins Eureka Prize for Scientific Research

From left: Dr Paulo Martins, Dr Chris Andoniou, Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti and Mr Peter Fleming. (Absent was Professor Geoff Hill.)

Antibodies (Y-shaped) stop viruses from reactivating when they are matched. Supplied by Mariapia Degli-Esposti, Leonie Herson/Squarecell.

Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) and her team have won the 2019 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research for their ground-breaking work regarding cytomegalovirus (CMV).

“It's a true honour that our team has been recognised for our work on CMV with the 2019 UNSW Eureka Prize for Scientific Research," Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti said.

Bone marrow and organ transplant recipients have highly compromised immune systems and are at high risk of developing life-threatening infections following transplantation. Professor Degli-Esposti and her team found a way to manage one of the most common viral infections caused by CMV. Using antibodies, they were able to prevent the virus from reactivating and causing disease.

Creating a world-first pre-clinical model to examine the reactivation of CMV following bone marrow transplantation, they discovered that antibodies are key to limiting reactivation, and injecting mice after transplantation with antibodies matched to the infecting strain of CMV (CMV strain-specific antibodies) protected them from CMV reactivation.

"We believe the results from our pre-clinical model into CMV will pave the way for future clinical trials to test this approach as a novel therapy," Professor Mariapia Degli-Esposti added.

Their research was published in the prestigious journal Science in January. Professor Degli-Esposti co-led the paper with Professor Geoff Hill from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the US, and Queensland's QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. Additional team members include Dr Christopher Andoniou from Monash BDI and the Lions Eye Institute, Mr Peter Fleming from the Lions Eye Institute, and Dr Paulo Martins from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

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