SCIENCE: Morgan Freney is aiming to create a multi-virus aimed at curing viruses in the flavivirus family.
SCIENCE: Morgan Freney is aiming to create a multi-virus aimed at curing viruses in the flavivirus family.

Meet the scientist working on a revolutionary new vaccine

WHEN she was in Year 9 at Xavier Catholic College at Skennars Head, Morgan Freney wasn't really sure what path her future would take.

Fast forward to 2020 and she is a PhD candidate in molecular biology at the University of Queensland.

Ms Freney is working hard to create a multi-virus which can be used as platform to cure the likes of dengue fever, yellow fever and West Nile disease.

"I'm working with a group of viruses called flavivirus and these are viruses which are transferred by mosquitoes," the former Casino resident said.

"Unlike COVID-19, which is transferred human to human, these require a vector to actually transmit.

"These are all really pathogenic viruses that cause hundreds of thousands of deaths every year … and we only have a vaccine available for yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis and what I am looking at doing is making a single vaccine that will cover all different viruses within this family of virus."

 

ACADEMIC: Morgan Freney is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland specialising in molecular biology.
ACADEMIC: Morgan Freney is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland specialising in molecular biology.

 

While COVID-19 is a major talking point worldwide, Ms Freney said working on this group of viruses now could prevent harm in the future.

"We have a lot of potential emerging viruses that are laying dormant in animal populations that could emerge in human populations," Ms Freney said.

"What I am doing is preparing us for that event, probably not a pandemic event but a large outbreak that could potentially occur."

But with such a lofty ambition, the vaccine involves painstaking work which could take years to complete.

"I use a transmission electron microscope, it's like this massive microscope that can magnify things to a hundred thousand times … it's basically weeks or months of making up these viruses and purifying them in a way that there is no other cell debris there," she said.

"Then I take multiple images of every angle of the virus, then I can reconstruct that into a high resolution image so I can see all the different genetic structures of the virus and what will bind to it."

It's a world away from when Ms Freney grew up wanting to be an Olympic swimmer, but proof that hard work does take you far.

"I grew up swimming, I thought I was going to be an Olympic swimmer but it was never meant to be and I think even if your career is veering in one direction you can always push back in another direction," she said.