Laboratory research driven by passion and motivated by community experience

Tim Barnett’s research has always been driven by a passion for science, but the past few years have sparked new motivation and momentum.

Group A Streptococcus, the bacteria at the centre of Tim’s research, kills half a million people each year worldwide. Two-thirds of these deaths result from rheumatic heart disease (RHD), a complication produced when the body’s immune response to recurrent Strep A infections scars the heart valves.

Tim explains that working with Telethon Kids Institute and getting out into communities affected by RHD has shifted his approach to research.

‘I never really had that personal connection to people that suffered from Group A Strep diseases until I got the opportunity to go up to the north and meet Aboriginal people who are on the frontline of this pathogen.’

One young girl, in particular, stands out in his mind from a visit to a school in the Kimberley.

‘I could see how worried she was about getting a sore throat, because for her that might mean death.’

RHD makes typical childhood activities like running and playing with other kids dangerous, and seeing how this had limited this little girl’s social life made an emotional mark on Tim’s memory. Experiences like these, he explains, really emphasise the importance of targeting scientific inquiry to make life better for kids like her.

Beyond adding inspiration, working with HOT NORTH has provided practical advantages too. Close collaboration with remote health experts like Jonathan Carapetis and Asha Bowen brings a breadth of insight and expertise that enables Tim to target his lab work to address specific gaps in prevention and treatment.

‘HOT NORTH gave me the opportunity to see directly where my efforts could help… It’s made me a lot more passionate about what I do… Now I approach projects asking big questions and trying to make a difference.