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Maurice Wilkins Centre hosts rheumatic fever symposium

26 March 2013

A Maurice Wilkins Centre symposium this week attracted world experts to New Zealand to discuss group A streptococcus (the bacterium that causes rheumatic fever), with a focus on potential vaccine strategies.

Rheumatic fever, which can lead to life-threatening rheumatic heart disease, is now rare in most wealthy countries, but remains a major health concern in New Zealand and Australia. Māori, Pasifika and Aboriginal communities have amongst the highest rates of rheumatic heart disease in the world.

Tackling rheumatic fever is a strategic priority for the Maurice Wilkins Centre, which brings together most of the expertise in New Zealand on the biology of the disease. “This symposium is a wonderful opportunity to bring together many of the world’s experts in this disease and particularly in approaches to vaccination,” said Director Professor Rod Dunbar.

The two-day symposium began with a public session on the latest research into the biology of group A streptococcus and how it causes rheumatic fever and other diseases, the burden of disease in Australia and New Zealand, and potential vaccine strategies. There are many different strains of streptococcus, so any effort to develop a vaccine would need to focus on the particular strains found in this part of the world.

“The first part of this meeting was an open symposium providing information about group A streptococcus and what the problems are in New Zealand and the rest of the world. We then ran a closed workshop to discuss the way forward to identify the vaccine most likely to succeed,” said Professor John Fraser, Deputy Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre and Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at The University of Auckland, and an expert in the pathogenesis of streptococcus.

The event aligns with the recently-announced trans-Tasman strategy to fast-track the development of a vaccine targeting rheumatic fever.

Speakers at the public session of the Group A Streptococcus Vaccine Symposium, held at The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, included:

  • Professor Shiranee Sriskandan, an infectious disease specialist from Imperial College, London
  • Professor Diana Lennon, a paediatric infectious disease expert from The University of Auckland
  • Professor Jonathan Carapetis, Director of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth
  • Professor John Fraser, an expert in group A streptococcus from The University of Auckland
  • Associate Professor Thomas Proft, an expert in microbiology and infectious disease from The University of Auckland
  • Professor Ted Baker, an expert in structural biology from The University of Auckland

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