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Curtin research produces innovative new whooping cough vaccine

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Whooping cough, a highly contagious disease that results in about 300,000 deaths a year worldwide and is the least well controlled of all vaccine preventable diseases, can now be fought with a more effective and less invasive vaccine being developed by Curtin University of Technology.

Invented by Dr Trilochan Mukkur from Curtin’s School of Biomedical Sciences, the new vaccine is in its early stages of development but initial testing has shown that it can be delivered intra-nasally and is expected to have potentially fewer side effects, if any.

The persistence of whooping cough, as a serious health threat, has two primary causes: patient non-compliance due to the large number of injections required with adverse reactions noted particularly after the third booster vaccination, and the rather limited duration of protection offered by the currently used vaccines.

Dr Mukkur explained why the new vaccine may offer a potentially greater compliance rate than currently used whooping cough vaccination methods.

“Perth is experiencing a whooping cough epidemic right now. The reason why we see periodic outbreaks of this preventable disease is that current vaccines only work well if people have regular booster shots.  Typically this does not happen.  People hate jabs, or they just forget.” Dr Mukkur said.

“My vaccine, through its more effective stimulation of the immune system, will result in long-lasting immunity so that no booster shots will be required – just one quick spray in the nose.”

Dr Mukkur went on to explain that the new vaccine is expected to be cheaper to produce as well.

“Together with eliminating the need for booster shots, this will have the effect of reducing the cost of vaccination programs by a factor of about four which offers an advantage to developing countries in particular,” he said.

Dr Mukkur’s work was recognised recently as Curtin’s top new invention at the 2008 Curtin New Inventor Competition Awards where he won the first prize of $10,000 to further his research.

The Curtin New Inventor Competition is organised annually by Curtin’s Office of IP Commercialisation to encourage the development and eventual commercialisation of innovative new research out of the University.

Mr Conrad Crisafulli, Director of Curtin’s Office of IP Commercialisation, commended the winning project.

“Dr Mukkur’s work is a fine example of the leading edge research that occurs at Curtin and a very deserving winner of the Competition. I am particularly pleased that this project offers significant humanitarian as well as commercial benefits,” Mr Crisafulli said.

“Curtin staff and students have an excellent track record in conducting advanced, industry-relevant research which can provide significant benefits to the community, and many solutions and products generated offer real commercial potential.

“The New Inventor Competition is a way of helping these talented researchers bring their efforts to fruition for the benefit of the community at large.”

Dr Mukkur’s project was chosen as the winner from a field of 14 entries into the Competition and was one of three short-listed finalists.

The other two short-listed finalists in the Competition involve innovative technologies that will have a beneficial impact in mining and health. Each won a commendation prize of $3,000.

Mr Mark Steffens, a lecturer at the Western Australian School of Mines, has developed a process for refining metals using electrostatic solvent extraction. This offers significant economic and environmental benefits to the mining and mineral processing industries, particularly in WA.

Professor Charles Watson has developed an innovative technology for monitoring the effectiveness of motor neuron disease (MND) therapy.  MND is a devastating affliction, typically fatal within two to five years. A number of experimental therapies are being developed to treat it. However, progress is being hampered by not being able to measure whether the treatment is working. This technology will be able to objectively assess these treatments, potentially giving hope to thousands of MND sufferers.

A Special Commendation prize was also awarded to a project with significant humanitarian benefits. Dr. George Curry and Gina Koczberski were awarded $3,000 for their exemplary work in developing and demonstrating a system for reducing the cycle of poverty experienced by rural farmers in developing nations.

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