Monday, 06 April 2020 08:37

CSIRO testing facility gets $220m funding, new name Featured

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Scientists working at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory, now known as the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness. Scientists working at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory, now known as the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness. Courtesy CSIRO

The CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory, the only high biocontainment facility in the southern hemisphere, has been renamed the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness and given a funding boost even as its researchers start the first stage of testing potential vaccines for COVID-19.

A statement from the CSIRO said $220 million would be provided for upgrading the biocontainment facility, which was set up in 1985, while a sum of $10 million had been made available to support the testing.

The lab helps prevent, prepare for, and control highly infectious diseases of animals as well as zoonotic diseases; the latter pass from animals to humans and account for as much as 75% of diseases that infect humans.

The viruses that cause COVID-19 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome are examples of those that cause zoonotic diseases.

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said: “AAHL was originally created to protect Australia from animal diseases like foot and mouth, swine fever, and invasive species.

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Scientists working in the secure area at CSIRO's Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness. Courtesy CSIRO

"But the emergence of Hendra virus in Australia demonstrated that diseases do not differentiate between animals and humans, so neither will we, as we step up our preparedness and response to both in a more holistic way.

“The centre will continue to build on the expertise delivered through AAHL’s extensive biosecure laboratories combined with CSIRO’s expertise across science disciplines to predict, prevent and manage disease, and turn the breakthroughs of Australia’s medical research community into real world solutions for our greatest challenges, like pandemics.”

Dr Marshall said CSIRO scientists were working to address the battle against COVID-19, but stressed the organisation was well prepared for an exercise of this nature.

"In 2016 we created our Health and Biosecurity business unit to work with our scientists at ACDP and we created our biological manufacturing facility," he said.

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"In partnership, and with many other research areas across CSIRO, we are tackling national and international health and biosecurity challenges together, so we can better protect the health of our people, environment, agriculture and industries, and our way of life."

ACDP director Professor Trevor Drew said: “The activity being undertaken by CSIRO at the ACDP is tripartite, reflecting a multisectoral, one-health approach to disease preparedness across the three sectors of humans, animals and the environment which they share.

"CSIRO is fully equipped and well prepared to deliver this capability on behalf of the nation, through its specialist facilities, its expert knowledge-base and its deep collaborative networks extending from academia to industry.

“The CSIRO COVID-19 work is an example of the criticality of a facility like ACDP. In providing a pipeline for rapid validation of a vaccine against this novel virus, we are carefully balancing operating at speed in response to a global public health emergency, we bridge the gap between academia and industry, in delivering the impactful and innovative science, for which CSIRO is renowned."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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