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Annie Rahilly
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University of Melbourne researcher Dr Jaclyn Pearson has been awarded the prestigious 2014 Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research for her groundbreaking work into how diarrhoea-causing bacteria hides from the immune system.

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine awarded Dr Pearson the top prize for her PhD research. She was selected from a field of highly talented, young, up-and-coming Victorian health and medical researchers. The Premier’s Award recognises achievement, celebrates creativity and acknowledges excellence across all fields of health or medical research.

Based at the University’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, Dr Pearson’s research explored how a strain of E.Coli bacteria caused diarrhoea in humans by disarming a number of immune defences, particularly in infants under two years.

Dr Pearson said this research contributed significantly to the overall understanding of how we fight bacterial gut infection. It also showed how some bacteria interact in the development of disease and have evolved to evade our complex immune responses.

“My aim was to understand how pathogens which cause disease in the gut successfully colonise and cause disease in humans by disarming a number of immune signalling pathways,” Dr Pearson said.

“This work proved that EPEC, a pathogenic strain of the E.Coli bacteria, uses specific mechanisms to target one of the most essential and first line defence systems of our immune system in order to cause diarrhoea and spread to other hosts.” 

These findings could lead to improved drug therapies for the treatment of diarrhoea in developing and developed countries, a significant public health risk.

Dean of the Faculty of the Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences Professor Stephen Smith congratulated Dr Pearson on her achievement.

“The Faculty warmly congratulates Dr Pearson on this award which recognises her significant contribution to research.”

“This award also highlights the importance of medical research in our universities which in partnership with our healthcare partners can be translated into tangible medical benefits that will advance public health for patients in Victoria and around the world,” Professor Smith said.