Being 70

No it’s not about me although, I can see that on the horizon.  The three scores and ten in this case refers to the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane.  We are celebrating our 70th birthday (anniversary) this year and a special event will be a Gala Dinner Saturday 31 October.  You are all invited!  (The cost is $225 per person).  70 is a significant time period for the existence of a research institute.  We are not the oldest in world, nor Australia, but we are up there as a very long-standing research location. So we should have a Gala to celebrate.

We have come a long way since 1945. The start of QIMR Berghofer came from a realisation that there were infectious diseases in Northern Australia (i.e. Queensland) that were not getting research attention from the rest of the researchers in the country.  Malaria, for instance, was present in Queensland in the 1940’s and was eventually eliminated in 1981.  At the start, the Institute was an external part of the Department of Health in Queensland.  This connection remains strong with the Director, Deputy Director and the Council being appointed by the Minister for Health acting in conjunction with the The Governor of Queensland in Council and the Executive Council in Queensland. Serious official engagement is assured in that way and then authority to act is delegated to the Council and through it to the Director and others in the Institute.

The first home of the Institute was in a prefabricated ex-army hut close to the Royal Brisbane Hospital.

old building

I have worked in prefabricated huts earlier in my career in Galway and their practical use is continued much longer than their natural lifespan.  But this is where QIMR Berghofer started with a great emphasis on infectious diseases and an early interest in Epstein-Barr Virus and Ross River Virus.  It is interesting that the Epstein-Barr Virus work is still carried through very actively at the Institute and is the basis of some of the most recent immunotherapy clinical trials that we are engaged in.


The Institute eventually found a permanent home on the land of the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and the first building (Bancroft building) soon became full.  By then the leadership of the Institute had expanded the range of activities such that the new possibilities to study and work towards treatments of cancer were added to the Institute.  It also had great strengths in epidemiology and genetics.

Inevitably growth occurred in all of these burgeoning areas as did the reputation of the Institute.  This resulted in a second 12 story block (Clive Berghofer Cancer Research Centre) being built with the significant support from Chuck Feeney and Atlantic Philanthropies and also Clive Berghofer, a very generous developer from nearby Toowoomba.  Again within  10 years the now two buildings were very full and the State and Federal funds together with another major contribution from Chuck Feeney resulted in the building of the Central block which joined the pre-existing parts of QIMR Berghofer.

At the same time the Institute added mental health as an area of importance and continued to remain true to its mission of working to address health problems in Queensland and of course mental health has joined cancer as being a very major problem worldwide.  Now we have three buildings but a single Institute.


Buildings are important, but it is what goes on inside that is most significant. And every week the 700 workers here add to our contribution to science and to its translation.

So on Saturday 31 October we will celebrate all of these achievements, and the researchers and employees that have allowed them to happen.  70 is a noble age when maturity and wisdom are well established.  Our task is to point the way forward to the next decades and in doing so we hope that many, like you will join as supporters along the way. I hope to see you the Gala Dinner.

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