War veteran’s gift to fight COVID-19


A generous donation to Epworth HealthCare from a trust set up to honour a war veteran's parents could help researchers understand why COVID-19 affects people differently.

The William Henry and Vera Ellen Memorial Trust Fund has given $100,000 to aid a research project led by Epworth infectious diseases expert Dr James McMahon.

Dr McMahon is building a biobank of blood samples and throat swabs, taken from COVID-19 patients across Melbourne, to help doctors understand the nature of the coronavirus and the ongoing global pandemic.

“The research project has been collecting samples from COVID patients admitted to hospital since the pandemic began,” he said.

“Clinicians, researchers and scientists with an expertise in infectious diseases, immunology and virology then perform detailed analyses on the samples.

“The project allows us to compare samples of people who have been infected, to understand why different people’s immune systems respond in different ways to the virus.”

Until now, blood and throat swabs have only been taken from COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital. The trust's donation means samples will also be collected from people who returned a positive test to COVID-19, but were not hospitalised.

It is hoped the research will help identify markers in the blood and throat swabs that can be used to predict which COVID-19 patients may have poorer outcomes.

The research could also be used to target which types of existing medications or new drugs to use on different patients.

The William Henry and Vera Ellen Memorial Trust Fund was established in 2003 by World War II veteran Ray Houston in memory of his parents, who shared his passion for medicine.

Mr Houston left instructions in his will that the Trust, now valued at more than $1.6 million, direct funding to health and medical causes.

It is one of many charitable trusts Equity Trustees has been able to use to support the Australian medical and health research sector as part of the global effort to better understand coronavirus, develop treatments and ultimately find a vaccine and a cure.

“Ray was a World War II veteran and a devoted son, whose father died in 1942, leaving behind Ray and his two siblings," said Equitable Trusts' general manager of charitable trusts and philanthropy, Jodi Kennedy.

“Ray cared for his elderly mother Vera until she passed away in 1982. In honour of his parents, their strong family bond and their shared commitment to a number of social causes, including medical research, Ray created this Trust in his will.

"Each year Equity Trustees is able to grant money to support the community in the ways they would have wanted. Their generosity, as well as their memory, remains with us.”

Ms Kennedy said it was important to acknowledge all the contributions – large and small – helping the community through the pandemic.

“All contributions are essential – the people at the front line in medical and mental health services, the essential services workers and what each of us do to help drive positive social outcomes in our communities,” she said.

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