Multimillion-dollar grant to boost Australia's response to infectious disease outbreaks

A $5 million National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) will improve Australia's emergency response to infectious diseases.

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The Australian Partnership for Preparedness Research on Infectious Diseases Emergencies (APPRISE) will bring together Australia’s leading experts in clinical, laboratory and public health research to address the key components required for a rapid and effective emergency response to infectious diseases.

The University of Melbourne is the administering institution for APPRISE and will collaborate with multiple organisations around Australia to create a truly national network.

University of Melbourne Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Dick Strugnell said the CRE was timely and urgent.  

“The University is pleased to work with the NHMRC to develop the CRE, which provides the platform for the nation’s eminent major infectious disease specialists to undertake this vital and urgent research,” Prof Strugnell said.

“It will also implement protocols to improve the region’s protection from major infectious diseases.”

These include Zika virus, influenza, coronaviruses, hemorrhagic viral diseases, arboviruses, syndromic presentations of novel pathogens and antimicrobial resistance.

APPRISE Chief Investigator, University of Melbourne Professor Sharon Lewin, who is the Director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, said the new CRE would ensure Australia is equipped for a more coordinated, effective and evidence-based response to infectious disease outbreaks.  

“Even with no cases of Ebola and an absence of Zika virus outbreaks in Australia despite multiple importations, the threat of deadly infectious disease outbreaks happening closer to home is very real,” Professor Lewin said.

“This multidisciplinary team will create and share new knowledge to detect, prevent and manage emerging infection threats,” Professor Lewin said.  

“APPRISE will work with a newly established national network and with Commonwealth and State governments to create a sustainable research program to inform Australia’s emergency response to infectious diseases.”  

“We have outstanding research in emergency response to infectious diseases across Australia in multiple disciplines. The CRE will now allow for national coordination of these efforts, integration of different disciplines, training of early career researchers and a close link to government.”  

NHMRC Chief Executive Officer, Professor Anne Kelso said the new Centre would play an important role in Australia’s readiness to respond to future pandemics and other infectious disease emergencies.

“History tells us that new infectious diseases will continue to emerge but that we cannot predict when, where or how,” Professor Kelso said.

“The purpose of this significant NHMRC grant is to establish national capability to respond rapidly when such threats do emerge by undertaking the research needed to inform the public health response.”  

The CRE’s research and training activities will focus on:
*Clinical trials, observational studies and infection prevention in primary care, hospital and critical care services.
*Public health surveillance platforms and protocols, evidence synthesis and modeling for decision support.
*Laboratory research for rapid diagnostics, biomarkers and bio-banking
*The needs of key populations, including Indigenous Australians, and the Asia-Pacific region.

The CRE brings together researchers from the University of Melbourne, The Australian Red Cross Blood Service, Burnet Institute, Deakin University, Griffith University, James Cook University, Menzies School of Health Research, Monash University, The Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity in Society, The University of Queensland, University of Sydney and the University of Western Australia.