Disease researcher’s quest for ‘magic bullet’ wins award

Professor Si Ming Man, from The Australian National University (ANU), has been honoured with a $1.25 million dollar grant to advance our understanding of the immune system and find new ways to fight bacteria and viruses.

Professor Man received one of only two prestigious CSL Centenary Fellowships awarded in an online ceremony held by The Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (AAHMS) on Thursday 15 October, which celebrated the best brains in science.

The researcher said the five-year continuous support for his research was “incredible” and would allow him to find “a long-term solution to the growing resistance to antibiotics”.

“By harnessing the power of the immune system to fight against an emerging group of multi-drug resistant bacteria or superbugs, we potentially can bring new hopes to people all around the world affected by drug resistant infections,” Professor Si Ming Man, from The John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) said.

Professor Man’s work uncovered how bacteria interacts with the immune system and is vital in understanding and treating serious cases of food poisoning and sepsis.

“My research is about trying to work out how a family of disease-fighting killer immune proteins work in the body,” Professor Man said.

“We discovered there are certain members within this protein family can directly sense and recognise, target and kill specific pathogens that invade the body.

“We think there are other candidates that work together to try to defend our own body against various microbes including bacteria and viruses.

“I’m hoping to discover a magic bullet and have a whole panel of killer immune proteins that we can pick and choose from for specific bacteria and viruses.”

ANU College of Health & Medicine Dean, Russell Gruen, said: “Professor Man’s research is at the very forefront of how our bodies fend off threats from the outside.

“This distinguished award will further him in his goals of greater understanding and better harnessing of our immune system”.

More honours in health and medical science

ANU Professor Carola Vinuesa was honoured as one of the newest Fellows to the AAHMS and recognised for research that is having impact on vaccination, understanding of HIV reservoirs, and how to better fight immune diseases, allergies and cancer.

The ANU Director of the Centre for Personalised Immunology has been at the cutting edge of immunology and of the genomic revolution throughout her career, recently applying whole genome sequencing to a high-profile murder case.

With other ANU academics, she has also led an effort to enhance SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity including accurate nucleic acid and antibody tests  that detect current and previous infection by the virus that causes COVID-19.

ANU Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt said: “Professor Vinuesa’s scientific career is not just defined by a single significant discovery, but rather a narrative of exceptional research.”

JCSMR Director Professor Graham Mann hailed these successes by his colleagues.

“It is wonderful for us all to be reminded of the quality and impact of our researchers, especially in such a hard year,” Professor Mann said.

“Carola has been recognised by her peers in the Academy as a national authority in her field and inspiring research leader.

“Si Ming has been singled out by this prestigious Fellowship as one of our brightest new stars. Warm congratulations to them both from all of us at JCSMR.”