October 8, 2019  Print

Two Honours students from The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) have received awards at this year’s Australian Society of Immunology NSW Branch Meeting.

Jessica Merjane and Erica Longmuir-Vine in the lab.

Jessica Merjane and Erica Longmuir-Vine from WIMR’s Centre for Virus Research both received prizes for best oral presentation.

Jessica presented her research on the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), which can cause painful blisters on the skin known as cold sores.

She said, “HSV-1 creates a lifelong dormant infection within the sensory nerves cells. In some people, the virus can reactivate and exit the nerve cell, where it moves to the skin and causes painful lesions, as well as serious complications, such as severe eye infections.

“My research is investigating whether an antiviral protein, interferon, can stop HSV-1 from exiting the sensory nerve cells. If it’s successful we could potentially develop a treatment to block HSV-1 from causing an active, contagious infection. This could also prevent its spread, stopping new cases of infection.

“Being located within the Westmead Research Hub gives me access to exciting, cutting-edge technology, such as digital droplet PCR, which allows me to detect very small levels of the herpes simplex virus in my samples.

“The Branch Meeting was a fantastic opportunity for me to share my research findings so far, and I’m grateful to not only have had the experience, but to have received an award as well.

“I’m really excited to continue studying after I complete my honours degree, so the award is very encouraging as I head towards a PhD.”

Likewise, Erica, whose research is focused on HIV, said she found the award encouraging, as she also intends to continue studying after her honours degree. 

 “I’m very passionate about my current work, and love working with the team at the Centre for Virus Research,” Erica said.

“I’m hoping to continue and expand my current project as a PhD candidate, so to receive this positive feedback on my work is very promising.

“My research looks at the sexual transmission of HIV, particularly the early interactions of HIV and immune cells found in the human colon and rectum.  

“In particular, I’m researching macrophages, a type of immune cell that has, historically, been overlooked in transmission, and determining if they can facilitate the infection of key HIV target cells.

“Being able to investigate early HIV interactions in human tissue from critical transmission sites is a rare opportunity that I feel fortunate to have. It’s humbling to think that the research we do could one day lead to new ways for high-risk individuals to protect themselves from contracting HIV.”

Congratulations to both Jessica and Erica!

Jessica Merjane is an honours student at The Westmead Institute for Medical and Research and University of Sydney. She is supervised by Dr Monica Miranda Saksena, Dr Kevin Danastas and Professor Tony Cunningham.

Erica Longmuir-Vine is an honours student at The Westmead Institute for Medical Research and University of Sydney. She is supervised by Dr Kristie Bertram and Associate Professor Andrew Harman.