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Anti-cancer drugs show promise against virus thought to cause asthma -

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Robyn Williams: And this is The Science Show on RN, where shortly we shall go to feed the birds, after you've met this week's PhD, here being introduced at a three-minute thesis competition at the University of Canberra.

Presenter: Our next speaker is Cynthia Matthew, and Cynthia suffered from sinusitis and allergies from a young age, and, inspired by childhood memories of being in hospital and seeing her parents worry about her during those times, has moved on to a career in microbiology and pathology. From the faculty of education, science, technology and mathematics, please welcome Cynthia Matthew.

Cynthia Matthew: There's one in six children in Australia suffering from asthma. That means there's one in every six families that has to take care of an asthmatic child. Asthma is literally a suffocating disease that not only puts us at risk for developing more infections in life but it also affects the quality of life that one can have. There are many reasons behind why are we develop asthma, but among children the major reason seems to be early childhood diseases, particularly virus induced respiratory infections.

This is where my work on the respiratory syncytial virus comes in. This is among several viruses that is capable of causing asthma. What the respiratory syncytial virus does is it infects premature infants, newborns and children up to the age of five. It spreads within their lungs and causes permanent lung damage. This promotes the development of asthma later in life. As of now we do not have any proper treatment against the respiratory syncytial virus. We are treating the asthmatic symptoms but we still have nothing to stop the virus from infecting these children in the first place.

My work looks into potentially using an upcoming group of drugs called SINEs, small inhibitors of nuclear export. These drugs were initially designed as anti-cancer drugs, but I see that they have much more promise as a proper anti-viral drug against RSV. This is because they disrupt a key cellular pathway that is absolutely essential, and I mean absolutely essential for the respiratory syncytial virus to complete its life cycle. If the drug stops the virus, it would reduce its replication, minimise the number of infectious virus that is formed, and therefore reduce the lung damage that is seen in the child.

Therefore the second factor that I have to look at is, are these drugs suitable for treating children below the age of five? This is where the reversible nature comes in. In a normal cell they would do absolutely nothing at all, making it 100% safe for children below the age of five, newborns as well as premature infants. So in short, my work looks into developing a proper anti-viral drug against RSV, reducing the number of cases of children suffering from asthma as a result of RSV infections, and therefore making sure that all the children to my right have a smile at the end of the day. Thank you.

Robyn Williams: Cynthia Matthew at the University of Canberra doing her PhD. Another approach to asthma.

Cynthia MatthewPhD Candidate
Faculty of Education, Science, Technology and Mathematics
University of Canberra
Canberra ACT

PresenterRobyn Williams ProducerDavid Fisher