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Breakthrough virus research recognised by award


2 April 2012

Associate Professor Barry Slobedman, recipient of the 2012 Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Medical Research.
Associate Professor Barry Slobedman, recipient of the 2012 Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Medical Research.

The discovery of how a particular virus can persist in a latent state for the life of the human host has won the 2012 Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Medical Research.

The recipient is Associate Professor Barry Slobedman, from Sydney Medical School and the Westmead Millennium Institute at the University of Sydney.

Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a virus which still escapes all our biological defences. It infects most humans, staying latent in our tissues and causing little disease until our immunity is compromised, for example by the HIV virus or in transplant recipients. Then it can grow rapidly, and cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.

HCMV is a herpes virus which infects most of the world's population. After initial infection, the virus establishes a life-long dormant or latent infection.

Periodically, the virus can re-awaken to produce a new infectious virus. Frequently this results in life-threatening disease in immunocompromised individuals such as solid organ and bone marrow transplant recipients. Despite the critical importance of latency to HCMV disease, this phase of infection has remained extremely poorly understood.

As a virologist, Professor Slobedman has defined fundamental mechanisms which enable herpes viruses, particularly HCMV, to persist in a latent state. His discovery will assist the development of therapies to interrupt latency, and limit or prevent the devastating consequences of reactivation in immunocompromised individuals. It may lead to development of a live HCMV vaccine. Its potential for clinical applications has led to an international patent sponsored by Sydnovate, the commercialisation arm of the University of Sydney.

Managing Trustee of the Fund and Chairman of the Prize Assessment Committee, Professor Jonathan Stone, presenting the Committee's recommendations to the Trustees of the Fund said, "In their consideration of this nomination, the Committee noted the strong impact this discovery has already had on the understanding of HCMV infections."

The Prize, an award of $10,000 and a medal crafted by renowned Melbourne sculptor, Michael Meszaros, will be awarded to Professor Slobedman at a function to be held later in the year.


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