September 9, 2015  Print

Opportunities for Australian medical researchers to forge closer links with their Indian counterparts were high on the agenda at the 11th annual Indo-Australian Biotechnology Conference, held in Sydney in September.

The conference, which was hosted by The Westmead Institute for Medical Research, featured presentations by 34 of India’s and Australia’s leading medical researchers.

The unifying theme at this year’s conference was how new discoveries about the human immune system are influencing research in infectious and auto-immune diseases, cancers and the development of vaccines.

The Convener of the conference, Westmead Institute Executive Director Professor Tony Cunningham, said the conference resulted in further collaborations between Australian and Indian scientists.

“Elite researchers from all over Australia and India spoke on topics of interest to both countries, including HIV, malaria, TB, dengue, ovarian cancer and hospital-acquired infections,” he said.

The Secretary-General of the Indo-Australian Biotechnology Society, Dr Sheel Nuna, said that for more than a decade the annual conference has greatly contributed to improving dialogue between researchers and potential investors.

“This conference brought the power of the Indian Biotech sector closer to breakthrough discovery science that occurs in both countries,” said Dr Nuna.

“The conference played an important role in the establishment of the Australia India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) in 2006 and with the Australian government’s recent commitment of an extra $20 million, the AISRF is Australia’s largest bilateral research fund with any country.”

The conference facilitated intellectual sharing at two different levels. 

Firstly, it provided a platform to share real-world experiences and solutions to clinical problems in Australia and India through research.

It also defined achievable directions for vaccines, immunotherapies and drugs that will benefit both patients and the community in India and Australia.

An example of such collaboration was the development by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and Banaras Hindu University of a combination immunotherapy and drug treatment to control the infectious disease leishmaniosis, which is spread on the Indian sub-continent and south-east Asia by sand-flies.

And Queensland University of Technology and Manipal University collaborated on identification of diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers to improve management of diabetic ulcers.

The opening keynote addresses were made by Professor V Nagaraja from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, who spoke about the challenges posed by the resurgence of the bacterial infection that causes deadly tuberculosis, and also former Australian of the Year and co-creator of the technology for the cervical cancer vaccine, Professor Ian Frazer, who spoke about his latest research into skin cancers.

The 11th annual Indo-Australian Biotechnology Conference was held on the 7th and 8th of September in the Westmead Institute's new, architecture award-winning, research centre at Westmead Hospital.