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Professor Ruth Bishop

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Professor Ruth Bishop with participants in the first RV3-BB trial

Professor Ruth Bishop 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.