15 November 2011

Researchers at The University of Queensland's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology are working with colleagues at the Pasteur Institute in Vietnam to progress research in vaccine development for pandemic avian influenza.

AIBN’s Professor Anton Middelberg and Dr Linda Lua were part of a delegation from UQ that signed a memorandum of understanding with the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City.

The agreement will result in a pilot study in vaccine development for pre-pandemic H5N1, part of an AIBN research program at UQ, with evaluation at the Pasteur Institute.

World Health Organisation figures show strains of H5N1 have been responsible for 331 deaths globally since 2003, with 59 reported in Vietnam.

With 493 people infected around the world since 2003, this equates to more than 60 per cent dying from complications such as organ failure, breathing difficulties or pneumonia.

Professor Middelberg and Dr Lua are working to develop a vaccine, using bacteria to create virus-like particles (VLPs).

VLPs are shells of the virus, but do not contain any viral genetic material, so they can elicit a strong immune response but are inherently safe.

It is hoped the VLP technology can be tailored for any infectious disease and potentially deliver vaccines in weeks, rather than months, stopping a virus from causing a pandemic.

Professor Middelberg said the agreement with the Pasteur Institute was an important step in ensuring the VLP technology could one day be used to protect lives around the world.

“We believe VLPs have the potential to take vaccine technology to a new level and tackle emerging diseases in a safe and effective way,” he said.

“We need to prove the efficacy of the VLP technology. Our agreement with a highly-regarded agency such as the Pasteur Institute will allow us to move in that direction. It is an exciting step for us.”

The Pasteur Institute is the agency for public health in the south of Vietnam, with responsibility for infectious disease surveillance and prevention, biomedical research, vaccine control and manufacture and testing.

The Institute was founded in 1891 as the first Pasteur Institute outside of Europe.

The delegation that signed the memorandum of understanding included UQ Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and International) Professor Alan Lawson; Australian Consul-General Graeme Swift; Pasteur Institute Director Dr Tran Ngoc Huu; and Deputy Director Dr Cao Thi Bao Van.
Media: Erik de Wit (3346 3962, 0427 281 466 or e.dewit@uq.edu.au)