Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Saving young lives by the million

Professor Ruth Bishop has been named the 2013 CSL Florey Medallist for her discovery of the rotavirus responsible for the deaths of half a million children each year.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

By their third birthday, just about every child in the world has had a rotavirus infection. Every day about 1200 children die from it; half a million children every year. That’s changing. We’re fighting back thanks to a discovery made in 1973 by a quiet Melbourne researcher—this year’s winner of the 2013 CSL Florey Medal.

That was when Ruth Bishop, Brian Ruck, Geoffrey Davidson and Ian Holmes at the Royal Children’s Hospital and the University of Melbourne’s microbiology department found a virus, now known as rotavirus. Until the middle of the last decade, it put about 10,000 Australian children in hospital each year with acute gastroenteritis. In the next decade, as a direct result of their research, millions of young lives will be saved.

The discovery initiated a life’s work for Ruth—understanding the virus, working out how it spreads and fighting back with treatments and vaccines. As a result, vaccination against “gastro” has been part of the National Immunisation Program for all Australian infants since July 2007. And the number of hospital admissions has dropped by more than 70 per cent.

Globally, rotavirus infection still leads to more than 450,000 child deaths each year. But that’s changing too. Fifty million children in the poorest countries will be vaccinated by 2015 by GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and their...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.