Supported by The Hospital Research Foundation (THRF), Dr Ashish Shrestha’s research aims to develop a universal Hepatitis C virus vaccine and a DNA vaccine to provide effective protection against the Zika virus, currently there are no developed vaccines against either virus.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease cause by Hepatitis C virus. The virus causes inflammation of the liver and can lead to carcinoma (a cancer that begins in liver and can spread to other parts of the body) and liver cirrhosis (liver damage).

Globally, more than 185 million people have been infected with the virus and estimated health care costs for the treatment is around $252 million per annum in Australia.

Zika is a disease contracted by an infected mosquito bite, which can cause fever, rash and muscle and joint pain. Aiming to develop vaccines against these viruses, Dr Shrestha’s background in microbiology will be a vital contribution to this research.

Awarded a THRF Early Career Fellowship, Dr Shrestha relocated to the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research (BHI) in July from the University of Queensland to pursue this vital research. Dr Shrestha is working under Professor Eric Gowans who is leading this research.

“Prof Gowans has already developed a novel Hepatitis C DNA vaccine and I am researching to develop a vaccine which can protect against the four most common Hepatitis C virus genotypes found globally,” Dr Shrestha explained.

“I am also working on the development of a vaccine for the Zika virus. As the Zika virus belongs to the same family as the Hepatitis C virus I will be using a similar strategy to target it.”

“Although there are existing treatment methods for people who contract Hepatitis C, they are very expensive. The number of Hepatitis C cases in Australia is increasingly reported each year, so a new and cheaper vaccine is vital.”

Dr Shrestha’s potential Zika virus vaccine will be targeted to people living in tropical regions, travellers and also pregnant women, as mothers infected during pregnancy are more likely to have children with microcephaly (small brain syndrome) for which there is no treatment.

Dr Shrestha is grateful to THRF and the donor community for the opportunity to potentially develop new much-needed vaccines for these life threatening viruses.

“I am very grateful to THRF for supporting this great research that will save lives. I am also especially grateful for the donor community who have contributed these vital funds to provide researchers like myself the opportunity to develop treatment methods for diseases.”

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