Silencing the Hendra virus by "stealth"

Associate Professor Nigel McMillan from Griffith University’s School of Medical Science has been awarded federal government funding to make further progress towards a human cure for the deadly Hendra virus.

Since the first outbreak of the disease in 1994, there have been seven confirmed human cases in Australia, resulting in four deaths. Currently there are no safe, effective treatment options.

Griffith University researchers, in collaboration with CSIRO, are developing a new therapy that attacks the virus by turning off a vital gene. Research team leader, Associate Professor McMillan said the beauty of the treatment is that it is very simple.

“We have already been able to reduce Hendra virus in cells by 99.99% within a laboratory, and we have found the treatment is highly effective in very low doses,” Associate Professor McMillan said.

“We have also developed a novel way of delivering the therapy through what we call “stealth liposomes”, which will safely take the treatment to where it needs to go in the body,” he said.

The only therapy currently available for people who have been exposed to Hendra virus is a highly experimental anti-body therapy. Associate Professor McMillan believes his team is on the threshold of a treatment which will be not only completely effective, but harbour no serious side-effects.

“If someone comes in who has been infected we will be able to give them a therapy which will turn off the virus and the patient will recover naturally because virus won’t have the opportunity to spread,” Associate Professor McMillan said.

“Furthermore, the patient will then develop a lifelong immunity to Hendra virus,” he said.

Federal Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, announced the grant as part of an overall $12 million collaborative effort between the Commonwealth, NSW and Queensland governments.

This is the second Hendra virus research grant awarded to Griffith University in less than a week. Professor Hamish McCallum, Head of the Griffith School of Environment, has also received a grant to lead an international team of experts investigating the prevalence of Hendra virus in flying fox populations in Queensland and NSW. The team hopes to be able to predict when and where Hendra virus will pose the greatest risk.