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Monday May 9, 2011

Researcher gets RM300,000 to create vaccine for polio and HFMD

PETALING JAYA: Dr Jane Cardosa, who is renowned for her work on tropical diseases, has won a US$100,000 (RM300,349) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pursue a global health and development research project.

She is the founder and chief scientific officer of Sentinext Therapeutics Sdn Bhd, one of the winners of the Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE), an initiative funded by the foundation.

Dr Cardosa will use the money for research on a vaccine for polio and hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).

Winning scientist: Dr Cardosa showing an equipment used for her research on infectious diseases in her laboratory at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Her project “Poliovirus Vaccine for the Post Eradication Era” is to design cell viruses that can generate polio virus-like particles to produce vaccine.

“This grant is aligned with Sentinext’s core vaccine programme, which is the development of a vaccine against Enterovirus 71,” Dr Cardosa said. The Enterovirus 71 (or EV71) leads to HFMD.

“I am very pleased to have won a GCE award and to be able to show that Malaysian scientists working in Malaysia can compete on a global level,” she said.

Dr Cardosa, who is also known for her work on viruses such as dengue and viral encephalitis, said: “The vaccine we develop will stimulate the immune system to make antibodies which would inactivate poliovirus.

“So, infection cannot take place.

“This would be the same principle upon which our EV71 vaccine would work.”

Dr Cardosa obtained her PhD from Oxford University in 1984 and a liberal arts degree from Princeton University in 1974.

She has previously served 25 years as an academic in Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and Universiti Sains Malaysia.

To receive the fund, Dr Cardosa and the other winners had demonstrated their ideas online in one of five health areas: polio eradication, HIV, sanitation and family health technologies, and mobile health.

Dr Cardosa was previously involved in a probe on the outbreak of HFMD in Sarawak in 1997.

Then, following the 2004 Aceh tsunami, she was called upon by the World Health Organisation to set up a basic laboratory in order to test residents for infectious diseases.

The GCE is a US$100mil (RM304mil) initi­­a­­­­­­-tive funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since 2008. Nearly 500 researchers worldwide had been awarded with grants.

“The grant means a lot to Sentinext. Winning a GCE is an important milestone in our efforts to get international recognition as a serious player in vaccine development for global health and tropical infectious diseases,” she said.

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