Dr Eric Chow

Dr Eric Chow

Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science (Forensic Biology) (2008)

Senior Research Fellow, Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and Central Clinical School, Monash University

UTS Alumni Award for Excellence 2018 – Faculty of Science

Though he completed his PhD just four years ago, sexual-health researcher Dr Eric Chow is already considered the 15th most active academic in his field internationally, having produced more than 140 publications. In that time, he’s also managed to challenge 100 years of conventional thinking about gonorrhoea.

Though it’s long been considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), Chow has discovered that gonorrhoea can also be spread through saliva, including through kissing. The disease is easily treated with antibiotics but increasing resistance around the world has prompted him to come up with a novel treatment.

“We asked men with oral gonorrhoea to gargle with antiseptic mouthwash,” he says. “After five minutes we tested them and half didn’t have gonorrhoea.” The effect appears to be relatively short-term so Chow is now working on a national clinical trial of 530 people to determine whether daily use can be an effective preventative measure against the spread of the disease. He’ll present his preliminary findings at the STI & HIV 2019 World Congress in Vancouver in July.

“Because I've got that basic science background – and I’ve also done master’s degrees in public health, biostatistics, and bioinformatics – I can bring new learnings and concepts.”

Chow holds NHMRC research fellowships at the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and Monash University. While many of his colleagues came to the field as physicians, his background is in forensics, having graduated from UTS with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science (Forensic Biology) in 2008. “Because I've got that basic science background – and I’ve also done master’s degrees in public health, biostatistics, and bioinformatics – I can bring new learnings and concepts to the team,” he says.

After graduating from UTS, Chow assisted with biotechnology research in his native Hong Kong, prompting him to switch from forensics to research. Australia’s reputation as a world leader in controlling the human papillomavirus (HPV) is part of what attracted him to the field of sexual health. He’s currently studying the effects of the national vaccination programs that began in 2007, and his research into the spread of HPV among gay men has resulted in free vaccines being made available to young gay men in Victoria in 2017 and NSW in 2018.

Chow has also been working with a commercial app developer to create a smartphone program to help users self-diagnose STIs. Targeted at young people, particularly those in regional Australia who don’t have access to a sexual-health clinic, the app asks users a series of questions then identifies the probability of various STIs and possible treatments. “The idea is that they can print off a referral letter and show it to their GP,” he says. “Some GPs don’t know how to treat or manage certain STIs, such as syphilis and gonorrhoea. But the letter documents what tests to do, what specimens to provide and treatment recommendations.” Thanks to Chow’s research, in years to come, that might just include a daily gargle with antiseptic mouthwash for gonorrhoea prevention and control.

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