Now, thanks to his lifelong prudence and recent act of overwhelming generosity, local researchers will have funding to do vital work they’d otherwise be unable to tackle. There were seven recipients in the inaugural group last year, and 11 in 2018, with this year’s recipients splitting $1.56 million.
“Encephalitis is not common, but when it happens, it’s devastating,” says Power. Around 20 to 30 per cent of patients die from the illness, which causes inflammation of the brain. Others are left with life-altering neurological conditions such as epilepsy, cognitive changes and other brain injuries. “Around 50 per cent of patients never know the cause,” he adds.
But when Power and his colleagues discovered the pegivrius, they realized they might have stumbled upon a previously unknown cause. “That was a big surprise,” he recalls. It was also promising, because pegivirus has been known to behave similarly to Hepatitis C virus in the body, which means it might respond to already-approved medications that fight Hep C. “To find a previously unrecognized cause of encephalitis that might be treatable is very exciting,” says Power.
With few resources to test their hypothesis, Power and his colleagues turned to the Kaye Competition. They received funding to do research and test medications against pegivirus in cell cultures. The work is now proceeding “full throttle,” says Power, and could lead to a treatment that saves the lives of encephalitis patients worldwide.