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Spotlight on infectious diseases research efforts

Sun striking the Clocktower

Friday 17 April 2009 3:38pm

Experts in infectious disease research will converge on the University of Otago next week for a two-day gathering to discuss the latest developments in the field.

More than 70 researchers from around New Zealand and overseas, representing a wide range of disciplines and research organisations, are taking part in a symposium held by the University's Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases.

Centre Director Professor Kurt Krause says the gathering is a valuable opportunity for researchers to exchange new ideas and findings in the fight against infectious diseases.

The symposium will focus on areas including tuberculosis (TB) and related organisms, vaccine discovery and development and other current research topics in infectious disease. University Vice-Chancellor Professor David Skegg will speak at the opening and two keynote speakers from the United States are giving presentations during the event.

One of the keynote addresses will be made by Dr Clifton E. Barry, III, Chief of the Tuberculosis Research Section at the National Institutes of Health's Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. The other keynote speaker is Dr Cheryl Jo White, Chief Medical Officer at the leading international biopharmaceutical company, VGX Pharmaceuticals. She will speak on issues involved in licensing new vaccines.

Professor Krause says that one aim of the symposium, and the Webster Centre generally, is to help facilitate New Zealand's participation in international efforts to ensure that research discoveries are effectively translated into new treatments that save lives.

"World-wide, infectious organisms still create an enormous disease burden, despite many scientific and medical advances over the past century. TB alone kills between two and three million people each year, and one-third of the world's population is latently infected with the TB pathogen."

New Zealand is well-placed to join global efforts to tackle TB in humans, as much research has been done into tackling the closely-related organism that can infect domestic animals such as deer and cattle as well as wild animals, like the possum.

Professor Krause says that the continuing rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of TB and other deadly bacteria is also a major challenge that must be urgently addressed.

"So far, New Zealand has been relatively lucky compared to other countries when it comes to rates of infections by ‘superbugs' such as MRSA and Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus, but these are now beginning to appear throughout the country.

"It is also important to remember that preparation to handle infectious diseases is needed even for diseases more common in other parts of the world, as they can be brought into the country unexpectedly, for example, by international visitors."

The symposium runs on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 April at the University's St Margaret's College. A programme can be viewed at:

For more information, contact

Professor Kurt Krause, Director
Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases
University of Otago

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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