Rockhampton born Peter Myler, Professor and Director of Core Servicesat the US Center for Infectious Disease Research , has won the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award.
Rockhampton born Peter Myler, Professor and Director of Core Servicesat the US Center for Infectious Disease Research , has won the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award. Contributed

He's trying to save thousands of lives across the globe

NOT bad for a boy from the bush.

Born in Rockhampton and raised in Theodore, Peter Myler this week won a major international award recognising his world-class research in fighting the devastating but neglected diseases of leishmaniasis and chagas.

They cause the deaths of more than 100,000 people each year.

Professor Myler was awarded the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Development Cooperation category for decades of work studying the parasites causing the leishmaniasis and chagas diseases.

For the last 20 years, Myler, Professor and Director of Core Services at The Center for Infectious Disease Research in Seattle, Washington, has been at the forefront of applying genomic technologies to increase understanding of the molecular mechanisms of these diseases.

The parasites Myler's career focuses on, leishmania and trypanosoma, cutaneous leishmaniasis, the most common form in humans, is estimated to affect half a million people per year, mainly in North Africa, the Middle East, North West India and China. Trypanosoma cruzi is responsible for chagas disease, which affects from six to seven million people, primarily in Latin America. Another variant, trypanosoma brucei, causes sleeping sickness in Africa.

Professor Myler was born in Rockhampton in 1956 and spent his early childhood (1956-1969) in Theodore.

After graduation from Warwick High School (1970-1973), he attended the University of Queensland (1974-1982), receiving his B.Sc. (Hons) (Biochemistry) in 1977 and Ph.D. in 1982.

The latter involved malaria research performed under the supervision of Professor Chev Kidson at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research.

After conducting post-doctoral research in the USA on antigenic variation in African trypanosomes at the Issaquah Health Research Institute and Washington State University, Professor Myler was one of the forces behind the development of Seattle Biomed, forerunner of today's Center for Infectious Disease Research.

In 1993, he was appointed as Assistant Professor in Pathobiology at the University of Washington. Myler led the genomic sequencing of the parasites causing leishmaniasis and chagas disease, a milestone reached in 2005, providing a "parts list" for hundreds of other research groups around the world to identify dozens of therapeutic targets for future vaccines and treatments.

At the Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR), Myler holds multiple roles which include leading a consortium that applies the latest genomic and computational biology techniques to reveal the function of parasites at the molecular level.

A number of drugs now at the trial stage are a product of Myler's contributions, although he cautions that reaching a real and lasting solution for these poverty-related diseases will be challenging, since parasites are constantly developing resistance to existing and new drugs.

"It can be hard to raise support for research on diseases that many people have not heard of," he said.

"I am fortunate to work alongside and collaborate across disciplines with a great cadre of colleagues here at CIDR and from around the world who are also dedicated to finding solutions to infectious diseases."

He shares the Development Cooperation award with Spanish scientist Pedro Alonso, whose work focuses on reducing mortality rates of malaria through vaccines and insecticide-treated bed nets.

According to the BBVA Foundation, the award recognizes the "importance of multi-pronged, complementary strategies, like those deployed by the laureates," in addressing the complex burdens caused by infectious disease in developing countries.

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