Walter and Eliza Hall Institute celebrates 100 years of discoveries

11 March 2015
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The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Australia’s oldest medical research institute, kicked off its 100th birthday celebrations this week, reflecting on a century of discoveries that have improved the health of millions of people worldwide.
Institute staff cutting 100th birthday cake
Institute staff members cut the Walter and Eliza
Hall Institute 100th birthday cake.

As part of the centenary launch, the institute revealed a new, six-story high LED curtain – the Illuminarium – capturing the amazing ‘hidden’ life within our body, and featuring the institute’s latest scientific images and biomedical animations.

Institute researchers have been behind such groundbreaking discoveries as CSFs, hormones that boost infection-fighting white blood cells, which have helped more than 20 million cancer patients recover from chemotherapy and revolutionised bone marrow transplantation.

Future discoveries

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute director Professor Doug Hilton said the centenary was an opportunity to reflect on the institute’s achievements, and look ahead to the next 100 years of discoveries.

“When you reflect on the advancements in health and medicine over the past 100 years, the milestones we have achieved have been absolutely remarkable,” Professor Hilton said.

“We couldn’t be more proud of the impact the institute’s research has made. Our discoveries have improved the lives of tens of millions of people worldwide and, as we continue to unravel the mysteries of the body and disease, we hope to impact the lives of tens of millions more.”

Since its establishment in 1915, the institute has grown to more than 1000 staff and 80 research laboratories focused on improving detection, prevention and treatment of cancers, immune disorders and infectious diseases.

Killing blood cancers

The institute’s latest discovery, announced today, reveals that institute cancer researchers have developed a new gene-editing technology for blood cancers that can target and kill cancer cells with high accuracy.

Dr Marco Herold, who led the discovery, said the technology enabled the research team to kill human lymphoma cells by locating and deleting an essential gene for cancer cell survival.

“It is amazing to see how far medical research has come,” Dr Herold said. “When the institute was founded DNA hadn’t even been discovered, and we didn’t know what a gene was. We now have technology that can target and switch on or off specific parts of the DNA with precision.

“Our research provides a ‘proof of concept’ for using this technology as a direct treatment for human diseases arising from genetic ‘errors’. It dramatically shortens the time frame for fundamental research, allowing us to speed up the discoveries that could be translated to better diagnostics and treatments for the community.”

Past achievements

Some of the institute’s past achievements include:

  • discovering CSFs (colony stimulating factors), which boost white blood cells after cancer treatment and have helped more than 20 million people worldwide;
  • identifying a ‘survival’ protein, called BCL-2, that keeps cancer cells alive, leading to the development of new anti-cancer drugs;
  • treating immune disorders by suppressing the immune system, still widely-used today for treating autoimmune disease;
  • understanding how malaria invades and infects blood cells, which has led to new clinical trials;
  • pioneering the use of hen eggs to grow and study viruses which remains the gold standard for producing flu vaccines today; and
  • researching and developing snakebite vaccines with CSL.

Follow the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Facebook and Twitter pages for updates on centenary events, and follow the hashtag #WEHI100.

Further information

Liz Williams
Media and Publications Manager
T: 0428 034 089
E: williams@wehi.edu.au

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