Published 5th December, 2011

 
UQDI’s Professor Ranjeny Thomas has been named as a finalist in the Health category of the Australian Innovation Challenge Awards for her development of a rheumatoid arthritis vaccine.
 
Aimed at finding Australia’s next big breakthroughs in fields ranging from clean energy technology through agriculture to astronomy, The Australian Innovation Challenge Awards are run by The Australian newspaper in association with Shell and supported by the Commonwealth Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. The awards are designed to help drive some of the nation’s best ideas to commercialisation or execution.
 
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and limitation in the motion and function of multiple joints. Though joints are the principal body parts affected by RA, inflammation can develop in other organs as well. Over 500,000 Australians have RA, and the disease typically affects women twice as frequently as men.
 
 “RA is caused by an aberrant immune response that can be triggered by disease-specific antigens, or proteins,” says Professor Ranjeny Thomas.
 
“Current treatments attempt to reduce the joint destruction associated with this disease by targeting the inflammation that is a consequence of this immune response. However, non-specific suppression of inflammation may increase infection, and drugs may be toxic to vital organs.”
 
Professor Thomas’ vaccine is specifically designed to re-educate the immune system towards the disease-specific antigens. The vaccine is at the proof-of-concept stage and the group hopes to commence clinical trials in two years.
 
The seven professional categories are: agriculture and food; minerals and energy; health; environment; ICT; education and manufacturing and hi-tech design (designs either taken up in Australia or exported). Many of the categories also cover enabling technology, such as nanotechnology, advanced materials and biotechnology.
 
The winners of the professional categories will receive prizes of $5000. The overall winner will receive a further $25,000. An eighth category, Backyard Innovation, is open to the general public and has a $10,000 prize.
 
The Australian Innovation Challenge finalists information can be found online at www.theaustralian.com.au/innovationchallenge

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