Australian researcher uncovering keys to malaria elimination receives major research award

An Australian scientist leading the charge to find the next generation of treatments and vaccines for malaria, has won the prestigious 2019 GSK Award for Research Excellence.

Professor Brendan Crabb AC – Director and CEO of Burnet Institute – has won the award for his research to better understand the DNA of the malaria parasite. His work has transformed how scientists explore malaria prevention and treatments globally.

Professor Crabb was involved in the technical breakthrough of DNA ‘transfection’ of the malaria parasite. Transfection is a powerful tool that enables scientists to manipulate the genome of the malaria parasite. By tweaking the parasite’s DNA, scientists can discover which mutations are responsible for drug resistance and what parts can be targeted by new medicines and vaccines.

Malaria is one of the leading causes of death and disease burden globally. It was responsible for over 430, 000 deaths in 20171 and 1,200 children die every day of the disease2.

“Malaria is one of the most important health problems humans have ever faced. The scale is unimaginable with around 3.2 billion people at risk of the disease3,” said Professor Crabb.

“While malaria most significantly impacts the world’s poorest countries near the equator, this has a flow-on effect for Australia. Countries like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia are our neighbours, trading partners and popular travel destinations. We need to work collaboratively to help these countries deal with the burden of malaria. It will improve their health and drive greater security and prosperity for all,” he said. 

According to Professor Crabb, advancing research at all levels is critical to combatting malaria, as the parasite evolves to develop drug resistance.

“The work of Professor Crabb is testament to the impact home-grown research and innovation can have on a global scale,” said Dr Andrew Weekes, Medical Director, GSK Australia. “We are honoured to recognise and support research enabling further discoveries and better outcomes for people suffering from global health inequities.”

The award was presented to Professor Crabb at Research Australia’s Health and Medical Research Awards 2019 in Melbourne. Dr Weekes said GSK is proud to be supporting Australian researchers with this award, now in its 39th year.

Professor Crabb said that winning the GSK Award for Research Excellence highlights the power of collaboration and having greater recognition of Australian research.

“Everything I’ve achieved has been done as part of a team. This award also recognises the efforts of my colleagues, teams, industry and patients. I am honoured to have received this award – especially as it draws attention to the fact that many of our human brothers and sisters still suffer enormously from malaria,” said Professor Crabb.

The GSK Award for Research Excellence is one of the most prestigious awards available to the Australian medical research community. It has been awarded since 1980 to recognise outstanding achievements in medical research with potential importance to human health.

Among the previous recipients of the GSK Award for Research Excellence are some of Australia’s most noted scientific researchers, including Professor Tony Basten (1980), Professor Nicos Nicola (1993), and Professor Kathryn North (2011). The 2018 GSK Award for Research Excellence was awarded to Professors Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer from the Melanoma Institute of Australia for research that has tripled the life expectancy for some advanced melanoma patients and transformed how the cancer is diagnosed and managed.

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