Menzies researcher Dr Steven Tong has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship for his critical research into golden staph, a major cause of severe community and hospital acquired infections.

Dr Tong, Research Fellow with Menzies School of Health Research, explored the epidemiology of golden staph in northern Australia and showed that strains of golden staph bacteria are resistant to antibiotics and cause skin infections, and can be fatal if they enter the bloodstream.

At the heart of the Fulbright Scholarship Program is the belief that free and responsible individuals can make a difference in the world.

The scholarship will enable Dr Tong to spend seven months at the Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina, one of the world’s leading centres for staphylococcal research, to gain an international perspective on staphylococcal disease.

Previous research by Dr Tong showed the annual incidence of golden staph bloodstream infections to be six times higher in the Indigenous community compared with the non Indigenous population in northern Australia.

“It is likely that these antibiotic-resistant golden staph strains have arisen in remote Indigenous communities where staphylococcal disease is highly prevalent.”

At Duke University Dr Tong will continue his research into a peculiar strain of golden staph that is the predominant cause of skin infections in Aboriginal communities. He will investigate whether this strain of golden staph is as virulent as other strains.

Dr Tong will also undertake a second project examining the relationship between golden staph and infection affecting the lining of the heart muscle.

“The Menzies School of Health Research is establishing an internationally and nationally recognized role in staphylococcal research,” Dr Tong said.

Fulbright Scholarships work on issues of key significance to Australia and the United States and provide researchers and students an opportunity to gain an international perspective on their area of research. A key aim is to foster mutual cultural understandings between the two countries and establish collaborative research relationships.

Twenty-six Australians were awarded prestigious 2010 Fulbright Scholarships. Worth up to $45,000 they enable scholars to study and research in the U.S. for three to twelve months.