Murdoch Associate Professor receives $75,000 Merit Award for HIV project

August 21, 2015

Mina John

Dr Mina John: $75,000 Merit Award recipient

Dr Mina John, from the Institute for Immunology and Infectious Diseases (IIID) at Murdoch University, was recently presented a $75,000 Merit Award to assist her research into the possible control and prevention of the deadly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Dr Mina John’s research aims to test and develop proteins derived from HIV, to make vaccines that could prevent HIV transmission or help control the virus enough in those with infection to not require lifelong medication.

The Associate Professor was one of 14 researchers, all of whom came close to receiving a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Project Grant, Early Career Fellowship or Career Development Fellowship in 2014. Each received a one-off State Government payment to strengthen their applications in future NHMRC funding rounds.

The announcements were made by Health Minister Kim Hames who said that NHMRC funding was extremely competitive and many high-quality applications were unsuccessful only because the NHMRC did not have the capacity to fund every viable proposal.

"But these researchers all impressed the NHMRC with their applications and we are hopeful that the support provided by these awards will help them make it over the line in future funding rounds," Dr Hames said.

"Each of the recipients is an emerging scientist undertaking important medical research that has the real potential to positively influence health outcomes for local and wider communities."

Dr Mina John’s project is titled: “Preventing vaccine failure: Identification of mutation-constrained pathogen sequences for immunogen design” and one that she hopes will lead to finding a way to stop the virus escaping the immune system.

“The traditional approach of using natural strains of a virus to make a vaccine, has not worked for HIV so far, in part because the virus has an extreme ability to change its genetic sequence, or  mutate, but still survive and replicate,” Dr John said.

“At IIID, we have identified sites in HIV which appear completely intolerant of mutation, such that the virus doesn’t survive at all if even the slightest change occurs at these particular sites.

“We want to find a way for vaccines to target these vulnerable sites, so HIV can’t escape the immune system.”

Dr John is also a specialist physician at Royal Perth Hospital, which provides a large clinical service for patients with HIV infection and other immunological disorders. She said that the award will be used to identify and test the effects of mutation in more HIV proteins, with a view to applying for funding to the NHMRC in 2016 to further develop possible vaccine components.

The awards are part of the State Government's four-year $30 million FutureHealth WA initiative which has been established to enhance Western Australia's health and medical research capability.

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