It is a disease responsible for millions of deaths around the world, mostly children and young mothers. However, thanks to Professor Michael Good and his team, the world’s first human trials are under way for a blood-stage whole parasite against the deadly disease malaria.
Good was born in Sydney in 1954 and was raised in Brisbane as an only child by his single mother, Beryl. From an early age, he was intrigued and interested in science: “I remember as a young boy creating such things as hydrogen balloons and gun powder and planting seeds and watching them grow and all of those things science nerds like to do,” he says.
This fascination with science led Good to complete a double degree in medicine and medical science which led him to accept a role working in a leukaemia ward with very sick young patients.
“It was definitely a challenging and very tough part of my life,” says Good, who currently works at Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics.
“It was 1983 and in those days, most of the people who came to the hospital with leukaemia or lymphoma died. I had 14 patients on my ward and I think of those 14, only two or three survived.
“After my residency at the hospital, I was offered a more senior position however it proved a tipping point in my career.
“I saw all of these people dying of leukaemia and thought if I could make a discovery and develop treatments by research, then I could potentially save thousands if not millions of lives instead of just saving one life at a time as a doctor.
“I declined the job offer and decided to go into research, which was a major passion of mine. I didn’t go down the path of leukaemia, because there were already so many amazing people making big changes in this area, but instead vaccines for nasty diseases that kill millions of people such as malaria.”
Malaria is a disease transmitted by a mosquito and is responsible for around 450,000 deaths each year. The mosquito bites a person and injects parasites into the blood stream which makes their way to the liver. Although the mosquito lives in the liver for about a week, getting bigger and bigger, it is not until it passes over to the red blood cells that it causes symptoms and can kill
“When making a vaccine, we have to block the parasite – so we can either block it from entering the liver and use antibodies to do that, or we can kill it when it is in the liver cell or the red blood cells,” says Good. “Trying to work out the lifecycle and trying to work out how to interrupt the lifecycle is what the vaccine approach is.”
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention estimates the direct cost of malaria to be at least US$12 billion per year with the loss of economic growth much higher.
The vaccine Good and his team have developed is currently in Phase 1 trials, where it is tested in humans to determine its safety.
While the fight towards a cure for one of the world’s most deadly diseases is edging closer, Good’s research stretches beyond just malaria.
He is also part of the team responsible for a Streptococcus A vaccine.
Strep A is highly contagious and responsible for more deaths than malaria. It is a germ that causes throat infections like tonsillitis and skin diseases like school sores.
It is estimate there are around 150 million cases at any one time of Streptococcal skin disease and about 600 million cases of tonsillitis in the world every year.
Good says the vast majority of those infections can be unpleasant but are benign and a person will get over the symptoms if they get treatment quickly. If not treated, 3-4 per cent can cause serious issues, the main one being rheumatic heart disease.
“When I returned to Australia after spending some time in America, I was reading about Strep, even though I had never studied bacteria before in my life,” explains Good.
“I was intrigued because sadly it mainly affects Aboriginal people in Australia and poor people globally. Also, there are some similarities in how the malaria parasite evades immunity to how Strep does. So I thought there would be a few things I did with malaria that could impact Strep.”
Like the malaria vaccine, Strep A is also in Phase 1 trials.
If Professor Good is successful against either of these two diseases, it could save the lives of millions of people.
When asked what his biggest career highlight is, Good says: “Hopefully it hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully it’ll be when we develop a vaccine against malaria and Strep.”
Five things you may not know about Professor Michael Good…
- Although Good grew up an only child, he decided to father eight children, his eldest son (35) a Senior Constable and his youngest child (20) a vet student.
- Interestingly, he lives in the same home in Brisbane he was brought up in as a child. While his career has taken him across the country and world, Good managed to scoop his childhood home up at auction after he returned to Queensland.
- Good is taking part in the Phase 1 trial for malaria, having received the vaccine himself: “I wouldn’t ask people to do what I wouldn’t be prepared to do. It just seemed to me to be the right thing to do.”
- Good’s PHD thesis was typed on a typewriter.
- Good says he does not have any professional regrets: “I am not saying I haven’t made any mistakes but I think if you have not made any mistakes then you are probably not trying hard enough.”
Michael’s words of wisdom:
There is always room at the top. Always believe your data. Always have a mentor. If you love your job, it is not work, if you don’t, do something else. Be courteous and respectful to every individual you meet. Have a hobby. Stay fit and healthy. Everyone makes mistakes, be forgiving.