Global recognition for infectious diseases research and local support of early- to mid-career researchers

14 June 2022
Three Sydney ID teams the latest to secure international funding
Two early-to-mid-career researchers have secured funding for globally significant vaccine research while the University of Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases’ (Sydney ID) global leadership in tuberculosis helped to secure a grant from the United States’ National Institutes of Health (NIH), for $US3.1 million.

Dr Kerrie Sandgren has been successful in securing a highly competitive Moderna Fellowship for vaccine research; Dr Megan Steain will work with Professor Jamie Triccas on a new international grant into a variant-proof COVID-19 vaccines by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) as part of a US$19.3 million project led by Sydney ID; and a team led by Professor Carl Feng at Sydney ID recently received an NIH grant, working with colleagues in the United States and China, to use the latest tools for understanding immune control within tuberculosis (TB) granulomas.

Sydney ID co-director Professor Ben Marais, which houses the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for TB, said:

These grants are testament to the importance of building world-leading research collaborations, as well as supporting the next generation of infectious diseases researchers
Professor Ben Marais

The NIH five-year grant, to gain insights into TB immune responses, was awarded to Professor Feng from the Faculty of Medicine and Health, collaborating with Dr Ellis Patrick, Faculty of Science; Dr Joel Ernst, University of San Francisco; Dr Daniel Barber, NIH and Dr Xinchun Chen, Shenzhen University.

TB – which remains the leading cause of infectious diseases deaths globally – poses particular risks to developing nations, with evolving drug-resistant TB a major concern.  TB also disproportionally affects vulnerable groups in Western nations, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia.

Professor Feng said the international consortium would characterise and compare TB granulomas – small areas of infection, usually in the lung – to identify features at the local tissue level that are associated with effective (and ineffective) immune responses.

“In order to prevent TB from occurring in the first place, we need to understand the host and pathogen dynamics in granulomas, for which there is limited knowledge currently,” said Professor Feng, the co-chief investigator.

“Most studies have been performed in a single experimental system in isolation, which our multidisciplinary international collaboration, through this grant, seeks to address.

“Our study should lead to the breakthroughs in the understanding how TB bacteria are controlled in tissues and will ultimately inform TB treatment and diagnosis.”

Looking at vaccine efficacy and side-effects, Dr Kerrie Sandgren from Sydney ID and the Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) was last month recognised with a fellowship aimed at supporting the next generation of scientists and healthcare professionals as they innovate in the field of mRNA research.

Professor Tony Cunningham, from Sydney ID who directs WIMR’s Centre for Virus Research, applied for the Moderna Fellowship as chief investigator with Professor Arnaud Didierlaurent from the University of Geneva as co-CI, with the nominated fellow being Dr Sandgren, a senior research scientist at WIMR.

Sydney ID Senior Executive Officer, Dr Jocelyne Basseal, congratulated all involved for their successful applications for international funding.

The world-class research at Sydney ID is not only tackling the greatest health challenges of our times but also supports an ecosystem for talented early-to-mid-career researchers, who we will rely on for infectious diseases solutions in the future
Dr Jocelyne Basseal, Sydney ID