Professor Ruth Bishop AC changed countless lives in 1973 when she discovered rotavirus. This ground-breaking discovery was the result of years of painstaking research and analysis, as well as dedicated teamwork.
After graduating with a PhD in microbiology in 1961, Professor Bishop spent time in the United Kingdom on a post-doctoral fellowship. She returned to Melbourne and to The Royal Children’s Hospital Research Institute in 1965, when she began searching for a cause of gastroenteritis in young children and babies. Initially, Professor Bishop was searching for a bacterial cause, but by the early 1970s she began to look for a virus.
Professor Bishop sent a biopsy sample from the small intestine of a patient with gastroenteritis to colleagues at the University of Melbourne, for them to examine under an electron microscope. What they found was a previously unknown virus. When Professor Bishop got the news of this discovery, it changed her life.
“It was so satisfying to solve a puzzle. You can’t really imagine what it is like until it’s happened to you, and I was fortunate that it happened to me at least once.”
After discovering rotavirus, Professor Bishop and her team went on to identify a strain of the virus in children who did not display rotavirus symptoms. Professor Bishop and her team thought that this strain, RV3, had the potential to be developed into a vaccine. A vaccine could be the answer to preventing rotavirus from causing gastroenteritis. Professor Bishop thought that it might take five years to develop a rotavirus vaccine. In fact, it took almost 35 years.
Professor Ruth Bishop’s dedication to the cause and treatment of rotavirus became her life’s work and it has not gone unnoticed. In 1996, Professor Bishop was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for her services to medical research. She was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2001, received the Prince Mahidol Award from the Thai Royal Family for outstanding achievements in public health in 2011, and became the first woman to be awarded the Florey Medal in 2013. In 2019, Professor Bishop was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).
Story by: Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
Professor Ruth Bishop
Professor Ruth Bishop using an electron microscope
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch and Professor Ruth Bishop
Professor Ruth Bishop’s first notes on rotavirus, 1973
Professor Ruth Bishop in the lab, 1973