Around the universities and research institutes

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust || doi: 10.5694/mja16.1605C3
Published online: 16 May 2016

Professor David Wattchow, surgeon, clinical researcher and philanthropist, has been made a Companion of the University by Flinders University. He is a foundation alumnus of the School of Medicine, and is recognised internationally as an expert in the treatment of complex cancers of the distal colon. His leadership of the Flinders Medical Centre (FMC) Clinician’s Special Purpose Fund has been influential in the donation of more than $2 million for neuroscience and cancer research, while his significant personal donations have supported PhD scholarships and fellowships. These activities have been instrumental in the creation of the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer. A graduate and University Medallist in 1980, Professor Wattchow received his PhD from Flinders in 1989. He gained his surgical fellowship in 1990, joining the FMC staff as a consultant surgeon with academic status at the University. He was made Head of Colorectal Surgery in 1996, and in 2008 received professorial status and became FMC’s Clinical Director of Gastrointestinal Surgery. As well as teaching into the University’s MD course and supervising PhD students, Professor Wattchow is the author of 75 peer reviewed publications and recipient of 32 research grants.

Associate Professor of General Practice John Litt is retiring after 30 years at Flinders University. He has also been presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Lung Foundation, which he can add to his 2014 Dean’s Award. In 2015 alone, during his time as deputy chairman of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ Quality Committee, its publications and guidelines generated more than one million website hits. He played a key role, together with another public health physician and South Australian GP, Peter Lake, in raising the uptake of flu vaccinations in South Australia for a major risk group, those over 65 years, from 29% to over 80% over a 10-year period, through the formation of the SA Influenza Advisory Committee. A/Prof Litt has been a member of the SA Department of Health Primary Care Pandemic Planning Steering committee and sat on several committees related to immunisation, including the ATAGI, SA Immunisation Forum, SA Influenza and Pneumococcal Advisory Committee. He says he will remain active on four national and one international Immunisation Advisory Committees.

The University of Sydney has received a $35 million gift from the Susan and Isaac Wakil Foundation, the largest gift ever donated to the University since its foundation in 1850. In 2015 the Wakils gave $10.8 million to Sydney Nursing School to establish 12 annual nursing scholarships, bringing their total University giving to nearly $46 million. The gift will enable construction of the main building within the University of Sydney’s proposed Health Precinct. For the first time multiple health disciplines will come together in a purpose-built facility to translate research into education and clinical services. The Susan Wakil Health Building will co-locate the faculties of Nursing and Midwifery and Health Sciences, with components of Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry. It will provide state of the art clinical simulation programs and a multi-service clinic, as well as flexible infrastructure that supports team-based research programs. A professorship will be called “The Susan and Isaac Wakil Professorship of Healthy Ageing”, in recognition of both donors.

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science are planning to establish a joint centre for research in cellular genomics. The Centre, which will be known as the Garvan-Weizmann Centre for Cellular Genomics, will be housed in The Kinghorn Cancer Centre in Sydney. The Centre will be Australia’s only multidisciplinary facility for cellular genomics — the study of the molecular genetic states of thousands of individual cells. The mission of the Centre will be to help researchers to develop a detailed understanding of how the genomes and gene expression programs of individual cells in the brain, the immune system and other organs change over the course of a lifetime, how cancers, autoimmune diseases, dementia and other conditions develop, and how to design new strategies for prevention and treatment. The Centre’s establishment will be supported by $5 million in NSW Government funding, with matching funds provided by Garvan, with the assistance of Weizmann Australia.

The University of Newcastle (UON) has appointed leading endocrinologist Professor Roger Smith, AM, as its next Laureate Professor to reflect his contribution to the understanding of human pregnancy. Professor Smith joins a group of only 10 UON academics to receive the highest academic honour. The Laureate title is reserved to recognise individuals for their world-class academic achievements and research impact on an international scale. Laureate Professor Smith said one of his major discoveries was that the length of human pregnancy was determined by a type of biological clock located in the placenta. He also noted the important work his team has done in the Indigenous community. He is the co-director for the University’s Priority Research Centre for Reproductive Science, director of the University’s Mothers and Babies Research Centre and director of the Department of Endocrinology at John Hunter Hospital.

Monash University’s School of Clinical Sciences’ medical student Ben Cailes will present two abstracts at the Annual Meeting of the European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases (ESPID) this month in Brighton, UK. Ben completed his Bachelor of Medical Sciences (Honours) last year at St George’s Hospital University of London, where he analysed UK neonatal unit data to monitor the epidemiology of neonatal infection. One of Ben’s submitted abstracts received a “top score” from ESPID and he will give a 10-minute presentation on the epidemiology of neonatal infections in the UK. Ben and the research team aim to publish their results in a peer-reviewed journal later this year, adding to a review article on this topic Ben published last year in Early Human Development.

Professor Dan Lubman, Director of Turning Point and Professor of Addiction Studies at Monash University, has been appointed to a new Victorian Government Mental Health Expert Taskforce, to guide the implementation of Victoria’s new 10-year mental health plan. The taskforce brings together a significant level of experience and expertise, and “reflects the Victorian Government’s ongoing commitment to work with the mental health sector, and people affected by mental illness to achieve better outcomes for all Victorians”. This appointment recognises the significant state and federal work conducted by Prof Lubman and his team at Turning Point. Prof Lubman is also a member of the Victorian Government’s Ice Action Taskforce, which was first convened by Premier Daniel Andrews in 2014.

A world-first research centre exclusively focused on tackling the childhood obesity epidemic has launched at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre (CPC). Experts from seven universities across Australia, New Zealand and the UK will join forces through the new Centre of Research Excellence in the Early Prevention of Obesity in Childhood, to be housed at the CPC. The new NHMRC-funded Centre will pursue research into the prevention of obesity in childhood, examining the crucial early years of life to better understand the importance of good nutrition, exercise and the effects of screen time in children aged 0–5 years. The $2.5 million Centre, which is funded until 2020, will bring together specialists from a variety of disciplines including paediatricians, dietitians, health experts, economists and exercise physiologists, bringing a multidisciplinary approach to the complex childhood obesity problem.

Burnet Institute and the School of Medicine and Health Science (SMHS) at the University of Papua New Guinea have signed a 5-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) to create opportunities for academic collaboration, student and staff exchanges, joint research, project tenders and grant applications. The MOU nominates public health, infectious diseases, women’s and children’s health and health systems as areas providing opportunities for academic collaboration.

CSL has announced the establishment of a new $25 million fellowship program for early stage and translational research in Australia. The CSL Centenary Fellowships will be high-value awards available to outstanding Australian researchers seeking to consolidate their career and undertake medical research in an Australian academic institution. Two 5-year fellowships, each valued at $1.25 million, will be awarded each calendar year, for 10 years. Applications for the first two CSL Centenary Fellowships (to commence 1 January, 2017) will open on 1 June, 2016.

Professor Rob Medcalf, from the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases at Monash University, has been awarded The International Society for Fibrinolysis and Proteolysis (ISFP) Prize for 2016. Prof Medcalf’s area of expertise is in molecular neurotrauma and haemostasis. The ISFP Prize is awarded bi-annually for outstanding contributions to the field of fibrinolysis, thrombolysis and proteolysis. Prof Medcalf will deliver a honorary plenary lecture at the joint meeting of the ISFP and the Plasminogen Activation Workshop, to be held in Shizuoka, Japan, 17–21 October, 2016.

Australia’s first robotically assisted hip replacement operation was performed in Brisbane late last month under the leadership of QUT’s Professor of Orthopaedic Research, Ross Crawford. Robot technology for hip operations has been used for some years in the US, but the 19 April operation on a patient at Brisbane’s Holy Spirit Northside Hospital was the first time the technology has been used for a hip replacement operation in Australia.

  • Cate Swannell



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