A potential cure for a disease sweeping through Australia’s koala population, has been sitting on a laboratory shelf for almost two years.
In koalas, chlamydia is a bacterial infection that can lead to blindness, severe bladder infections, infertility and death.
UTS’ Professor Wilhelmina Huston led a group of researchers responsible for developing a treatment for the debilitating condition, but the NSW Government is yet to decide if it will commit the funds needed for the next steps towards its roll-out.
Professor Huston says she “accidentally” discovered the vaccine.
“It’s been amazing to go from working on women and women’s health to thinking about koalas,” she said.
“It’s really changed the way our whole lab thinks. It’s made us look at our science from a different angle and it’s so exciting that we might be closer to solving a really big problem for our national icon than we ever were for women.”
The Berejiklian government committed $2.8m to research when it announced its Koala Strategy in January this year.
It’s just a small part of a $45m plan which includes koala habitat protection, fixing roadkill hotspots and creating a network of koala and wildlife hospitals – some of which are overflowing with sick and injured koalas.
Professor Huston’s funding proposal was to conduct further study into the impacts of chlamydia, and to identify potential management options.
Senior Veterinary Officer at Queensland’s Currumbin Wildlife Hospital Dr Michael Pyne, says that a cure is necessary to stop a growing epidemic.
“Around 75 to 80 per cent or [all] koalas that come into [Currumbin] are positive for chlamydia – so it’s a huge, huge issue,” he said.
The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage has advised that Koala Research Plan funding applications are still under consideration.
The department has given no date for when the successful applicants will be named.