As one of 11 researchers awarded a 12-month WAHTN Early Career Fellowship in Translational Health Research, Dr Janessa Pickering successfully developed tools and protocols to accurately assess Strep A surveillance.
In her Fellowship project, “Developing laboratory diagnostics for Strep A carriage: an essential step to progress vaccine and acute rheumatic fever primary prevention”, Dr Pickering (in collaboration with A/Prof Asha Bowen, Prof Jonathan Carapetis, A/Prof Catherine Satzke and Prof Andrew Steer) determined the optimal way to store and handle throat swabs collected from children. Their new methods can be applied in low- and high-resource settings to measure the rates of Strep A infection and the impact of preventative measures including health policies and vaccinations. This study also discovered how best to disrupt Strep A cell walls, leading to optimised DNA extraction protocols which are now being used in surveillance studies in Australia. Based on the success of the project, Dr Pickering’s colleague A/Prof Asha Bowen adopted the methodology to determine the prevalence and incidence of Strep A in the cohort study she leads in the Kimberley. With the laboratory platform to culture Strep A in place, the Missing Piece surveillance study accurately quantifies the burden of Strep A in school children.
Additionally, the finalisation of research protocols for Strep A identification has led Dr Pickering to a new collaboration with the Australian Strep A Vaccine Initiative Surveillance (ASAVI) – an Australian-led initiative to progress Strep A vaccine development incorporating official partnerships between the Telethon Kids Institute, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. ASAVI is funded by the Medical Research Futures Fund and philanthropic donors’ – including Open Philanthropy and the Leducq Foundation. Dr Pickering developed the microbial analysis protocols for the STAMPS urban pharyngitis surveillance study which will provide essential baseline epidemiology data to inform future ASAVI-led vaccine trials.
“This Translation Fellowship has significantly enabled the development of my early career research program which is now embedded within the END RHD Program at the Telethon Kids Institute,” Dr Pickering said. “The funding has been invaluable for establishing Strep A laboratory research, allowing me to develop laboratory expertise and collaborations, and carry out research to high quality.”
Following on from her success in the WAHTN Early Career Fellowship, Dr Pickering received a HOT NORTH Early Career Fellowship for 2020. Combined with the experience and mentoring she gained from her WAHTN Fellowship, she said this placed her in an excellent position to apply for future research funding and continue to work on reducing the burden of Strep A disease. Dr Pickering is now a deputy lead of the Group A Streptococcus Pathogenesis and Diagnostics team, which sits within the END RHD Program at the Telethon Kids Institute.
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