Fifty million children in the world’s poorest countries will be vaccinated against the deadly rotavirus by 2015, thanks to the breakthrough work of a quiet Melbourne researcher.
Ruth Bishop’s rotavirus discovery led to the development of the vaccine currently being rolled out by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation—and to her declaration as 2013 CSL Florey Medal winner.
Each year, around half a million children die from rotavirus infection and the acute gastroenteritis it causes.
Ruth started her hunt for the cause of ‘gastro’ at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) in 1965, making the rotavirus discovery with her colleagues at the RCH and the University of Melbourne in the early ‘70s.
The breakthrough initiated a life’s work for Ruth: understanding the virus, working out how it spreads, and fighting back with treatments and vaccines.
And the current vaccine rollout, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is already achieving results. Figures from Bolivia, the first low-income country to take part in the rollout, have shown a three-quarter drop in hospitalisations from rotavirus.
Yet Ruth, now in her eighties, won’t be fully satisfied until a new vaccine, currently being trialled in Indonesia and New Zealand, becomes available. It’s intended for newborns: “The only time children in many developing countries are likely to be near a hospital,” she says.
The CSL Florey Medal is a $50,000 biennial award made by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science and sponsored by CSL. It honours Australian researchers who have made significant achievements in biomedical science and/or in advancing human health.