Grant success to help fight blindness in koalas

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Grant success to help fight blindness in koalas

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Published on 5 November 2014

University of the Sunshine Coast microbiologists have earned a highly competitive Discovery Project grant of almost $460,000 from the Australian Research Council for their study into how chlamydia causes blindness in koalas.

Dr Adam Polkinghorne and Professor Peter Timms – who recently led the world’s first successful field trial of a vaccine against chlamydia in koalas – today gained an ARC Discovery Project grant of $458,600 for this separate but associated research project.

The news has delighted the USC academics, who have teamed with Professor Katherine Belov (University of Sydney), Dr Garry Myers (University of Technology Sydney) and Associate Professor Anthony Papenfuss (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research) for this work.

Dr Polkinghorne said chlamydial infection of the eyes was a significant cause of disease and death in koalas and had contributed to the ongoing decline of the native animal.

“We aim to evaluate whether differences in the infecting Chlamydia pecorum strains or the koala immune response are associated with the outcome of chlamydial ocular infection,” he said.

“Basically, what we’re looking at is the biology behind why some koalas are better than others at withstanding this disease.

“If we can get a better understanding of how some koalas make an effective response to chlamydia, we will be able to feed this information directly into further enhancing the efficacy of our prototype koala chlamydia vaccine.”

Dr Polkinghorne said the research project would significantly expand knowledge of the koala immune system and help benefit all koala conservation efforts.

USC’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Roland De Marco congratulated Dr Polkinghorne and Professor Timms on receiving the ARC Discovery Project grant.

“This grant is testimony of the excellence and standing of their research group as a national and world leader in this field of research,” he said. “This research project is important, significant, worthwhile and incredibly exciting.”

— Terry Walsh

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