29 Mar 2021

Syphilis prevention priority for NHMRC Partnership funding

Ten new medical research projects are being funded $11.3 million through the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Partnership Project scheme. This funding has helped to secure an additional $15.6 million co-investment in cash and in kind support from 80 partner agencies including hospitals, state governments, services and patient representative bodies.

Associate Professor Marcus Chen, of the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre within Central Clinical School, has been awarded $1.2M for his Partnership project, “Novel strategies for improving syphilis testing and control”. He is the only Monash University researcher to have been awarded a grant in this round.

He said that syphilis has been resurgent in many countries, including Australia. “Syphilis is making a major comeback unfortunately. The rates of infection have skyrocketed as the disease has moved into the heterosexual population; and it’s not simple to detect and diagnose by examination.

“The Commonwealth Government has recognised the challenge and is providing funding to enable us to take a variety of actions. We want to improve syphilis testing, surveillance, and control;  and we also plan to make sure that these new strategies are effective at reaching the affected groups who come into health services.

“Our research findings will help guide better syphilis testing and control by health care providers, pathology services and health policy makers.”

The team’s strategies include: novel application of nucleic acid  amplification testing (NAAT) for earlier syphilis detection; innovations in clinical service systems to improve syphilis screening and partner management; and a novel genomic based method for  tracking networks of syphilis transmission.

Prof Chen said, “Our research proposal has arisen out of close, longstanding collaborative research between Investigators and Partner Organisations on syphilis testing and control forged over years. This includes the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC), Melbourne Health and SpeeDx.

“Such a complex and urgent challenge can only be met successfully by working collectively with researchers, health service providers and policy makers.”

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