National honour for SAHMRI’s inaugural leader

02 Jun 2023
National honour for SAHMRI’s inaugural leader

The SAHMRI community warmly congratulates outgoing Executive Director, Professor Steve Wesselingh, following the announcement that he will be appointed as the next Chief Executive Officer of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Professor Wesselingh announced in 2020 that this current term will be his last at SAHMRI.

“I, and the community, have known for some time that 2023 would be my last year with SAHMRI, but this announcement is quite emotional as it makes my departure very real,” he said.

“I’m extremely honoured to be offered this role with the NHMRC and to have an opportunity to contribute to research from a truly national perspective is one I will cherish.

Professor Wesselingh was appointed to lead SAHMRI in October 2011, and has presided over its rapid growth and extraordinary impact on improving health and health care.

“SAHMRI has been, and will remain, an incredibly big part of my life. In many ways it has defined who I am, both personally and professionally,” he said.

“It’s remarkable to think back to those early days, well before our incredible Cheesegrater headquarters was even an idea on a page. Back then we were a team of about half a dozen people in a few rented offices on King William Street. We were scrambling to make a vision for better, more integrated health research a reality.

“I’ve been so fortunate over the past 12 years at SAHMRI to work with some truly remarkable people, from our Chairs Raymond Spencer and Hieu Van Le, to extremely talented researchers, and of course the array of skilled professionals who support the research.

“Together, we have taken an empty space at the western end of North Terrace and turned it into an iconic centre of research and health care that enjoys national and international renown.”

By any measure, SAHMRI has gone above and beyond in achieving the mission it was created for since its research began in earnest in 2013.

Some achievements are readily identifiable, like the ‘test-and-treat’ program that’s developing omega-3 supplements as an intervention against preterm birth, its internationally renowned leukaemia programs and the pending delivery of Australia’s first proton therapy cancer treatment unit.

Other achievements are less obvious, but no less important, such as the ratification of the South Australian Aboriginal Health Research Accord and the suite of initiatives that are improving care and outcomes for people suffering from heart issues.

“The impact SAHMRI continues to make from research outputs is a great source of pride for us all, of course,” Professor Wesselingh said.

“On a personal level though, I truly believe our biggest contribution continues to be the education and career development we provide for researchers, equipping them to become the best they can be.

“In research, we can’t afford to get caught up admiring past achievements – our focus has to be on the next discovery that will help people live longer and live better. The world-class quality of researchers that SAHMRI fosters enables us to keep pace with that ambition.”

SAHMRI Chair, Hieu Van Le AC, says the evolution of the institute from its formative days to become South Australia’s flagship independent health and medical research institute is testament to Professor Wesselingh’s diverse talents.

“Steve is one of the finest researchers in Australia and his reputation spreads well beyond our borders also,” Mr Van Le said.

“His leadership, diligence and determination, however, have been even more important in the legacy that he leaves for our great institute at this vital stage of our evolution.

“Similarly, this appointment is another reflection on SAHMRI and South Australia, and the integral role we play in nurturing research leadership.”

The Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon. Mark Bulter MP, says Professor Wesselingh has the combination of skills Australia needs to lead the NMMRC in the pursuit of health and medical research excellence for the benefit of all Australians.

“Australia, like the global community, faces many health challenges including cancer, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and dementia and the NHMRC is a world class institution at the forefront of discovering new ways to tackle these and other health conditions,” he said.

It was announced yesterday that current Deputy Director and SA Scientist of the Year, Professor Maria Makrides, will succeed Professor Wesselingh as SAHMRI’s leader.

Professor Makrides is an internationally acclaimed clinical nutritionist who has earned a range of distinctions including her election as a Fellow of both the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Science.

Professor Makrides’ broad program of research includes her team’s delivery of the world-first ‘test-and-treat’ program that’s identifying women with low omega-3 status who require supplementation to reduce their risk of preterm birth. She also brings to the ED role invaluable knowledge of the local, national and international research landscape and a diverse network of strong professional relationships.

Professor Wesselingh studied at Flinders University and trained at the Flinders Medical Centre before heading to Johns Hopkins University in the US to further his professional development. His early career as a physician and researcher focussed on neurovirology, HIV and vaccine development.

On returning to Australia, he took up the role of Director at the Burnet Institute in 2002 before being appointed as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University.

In 2011 he became SAHMRI’s inaugural Executive Director while concurrently serving as leader of the institute’s Infection and Immunity Theme.

Throughout his time at the helm, Professor Wesselingh has been a vocal advocate for the importance of clinically informed health and medical science across the board and has been a trusted source of knowledge and information for the public, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Wesselingh also serves on several Boards and is the President of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.

The National Health and Medical Research Council is the main statutory authority of the Australian Government, driving innovative health and medical research to improve the health of all Australians.

Support life-changing research at SAHMRI

Donate now