As a younger scientist at university, Si Ming Man was always fascinated with how something so small like a microscopic pathogen could cause large amounts of harm.
"It's a form of life that can't be seen with the eye that's such a tiny organism and yet it can cause such devastation with diseases like the plague or now with coronavirus," Professor Man said.
That interest has driven the professor at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University to look into disease-fighting proteins, and how they can kill pathogens, for the past four years.
Now the Canberran is about to go even further in his research that could be a game changer for how infectious diseases can be tackled, after receiving a prestigious million-dollar fellowship.
Professor Man was awarded the $1.25 million CSL Centenary Fellowship on Thursday night, allowing him to continue his research over the next five years.
He said it was an honour to receive the grant.
"As a researcher that's early in his career, the dream is to find a potential therapy to treat human diseases, and it feels like one of our findings could lead to a major breakthrough," Professor Man said.
"The grant is a lot of money and it will be planned over the next five years and we'll take an approach where we'll try and identify a panel of disease-fighting proteins to understand how they work."
Professor Man said in some instances, disease-fighting proteins produced by the human body can detect when the immune system becomes infected with pathogens and can mount its own response.
"Once cells in the immune system are infected, the system needs a receptor to sense the presence of a pathogen to respond," he said.
"At that time, a single killer protein can localise where they are and surround and then mop up the bacteria.
"What happens is that these processes kills the pathogen and alerts the immune system so it can see it more clearly and can fight infections better."
Work has been carried out to determine whether the proteins rip apart the membranes of the pathogens or go inside it to destroy.
While the research has focused on pathogens like E. coli or bacteria that can cause sepsis infections, Professor Man said he hoped it could go a long way to help fight superbugs that are resistant to modern antibiotics.
"By harnessing the immune system we can contribute to the solution of multi-drug resistant bugs," he said.
"The more usage of antibiotics there are, the more of build up of superbugs, and so we need an alternative and innovative solution to counteract that."
Professor Man said there has been some evidence that these types of proteins can work against virus such as norovirus or, in some instances, prevent HIV from entering into cells.
While Thursday's ceremony provided an opportunity to celebrate news of the grant, he said there was no time to waste.
"It's going to be an exciting time and we'll be working hard for the next five years to help find global solutions."