Professor Mackay undertook medical research in the UK and US before moving to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in 1955, where he became head of the Clinical Research Unit in 1963. He held this position until his retirement in 1987.
In the 1950s and 1960s Professor Mackay led the field of research into autoimmune diseases, coining the term ‘autoimmunity’.
In 1963, he and Sir Macfarlane Burnet published a definitive monograph on the subject, firmly placing autoimmunity on the research map. Professor Mackay defined major autoimmune diseases of the liver and devised a life-saving protocol for autoimmune hepatitis that remains standard today. He also advanced knowledge on many other expressions of autoimmunity.
In 2005 Professor Mackay was interviewed for the WEHI Revisited series (produced by Louise Darmody, Sound Memories), in which several institute luminaries spoke about what drove them to pursue a career in medical research, and shared memories of life at the institute.
The interviews can be accessed at the National Library of Australia, Canberra, and the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne.