Hollywood action for Geelong Laboratory
Gemma Gadd | October 20, 2011
REAL LIFE research by Geelong's Australian Animal Health Laboratory features in the latest Hollywood blockbuster, Contagion.
The film, which is out in Australian cinemas today, not only stars heartthrobs Matt Damon and Jude Law but also the CSIRO’s "bat pack".
The "bat pack" researches bat immunology and how bats co-exist with the viruses they carry to identify strategies to control viruses, such as Hendra virus, from spreading to other animals and people.
This same research is referenced as saving the day in the film, a depiction of how a deadly virus could realistically spread around the globe in just days.
The fictitious virus is based on the very real Nipah virus, a relative of Hendra virus.
CSIRO bat pack researcher Gary Crameri said one of the key areas his team is looking at is establishing and characterising bat cell lines to assist in developing faster, more sensitive surveillance tools to help identify new and emerging bat-borne viruses.
"Although our research has the potential to radically change the risk management of emerging infectious diseases within Australia and worldwide, we never imagined it would appear in a Hollywood blockbuster," Mr Crameri said.
But while actors in the film rush around in space-age looking protective suits, this is just a day in the life of Mr Crameri.
"Working with dangerous and incurable diseases requires working at Biosafety Level 4, or BSL4, where we protect ourselves by wearing space-suit-like protection with our own oxygen supply."
"The Australian Animal Health Laboratory provides a unique resource for Australia and our capacity to work with deadly BSL4 disease agents is arguably the best in the world," Mr Crameri said.
Although the movie is fictional, AAHL director Martyn Jeggo said Contagion a frighteningly realistic depiction of just how fast an infectious disease can take root and spread.
"The risk of an emerging disease pandemic is very real," Prof Jeggo said.
"Scientists have identified 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases in people are zoonotic meaning they spread from animals to humans."