Westmead doctor becomes research institute director

Professor Philip O’Connell, WIMR chairman Philip Chronican and outgoing WIMR executive director Professor Tony Cunningham.

Leading transplant expert Professor Philip O’Connell has been appointed the new executive director of the Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR).

Prof O’Connell is the director of transplant medicine at Westmead Hospital and currently the director of the WIMR Centre for Transplant and Renal Research.

Formed by Westmead Hospital and the University of Sydney in 1996 as a major medical research institute, WIMR is a key feature of the Westmead precinct – one of the largest health, education, research and training precincts in the Southern Hemisphere.

Internationally acknowledged as a pioneer in the fields of islet (tissue) and kidney transplantation, Prof O’Connell has been instrumental in developing an effective procedure to transplant pancreatic islets into patients living with type 1 diabetes.

While the procedure is in its infancy, it has already improved and potentially saved the lives of hundreds of type 1 diabetics worldwide.

Prof O’Connell will step into the shoes of Professor Tony Cunningham, who has been at the helm of the research organisation since its foundation 23 years ago.

Prof O’Connell joined WIMR in 2002 and will assume his new role on 1 January 2020.

“It is a tremendous honour for me to be given the responsibility of leading The Westmead Institute for Medical Research,” Prof O’Connell said.

“Its strength lies in the outstanding people who work here. I am privileged to work alongside some of the most inspiring and committed individuals that I have met.

“For a long time, I have admired the vision and leadership of Professor Tony Cunningham. To be stepping into the shoes of the person who essentially created this outstanding institute is both daunting and exhilarating. We all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude and I will work tirelessly to build on Professor Cunningham’s legacy.”

Prof Cunningham has been at the helm of WIMR since its inception more than 23 years ago.

Despite soon stepping down as executive director, he will continue his ground-breaking research into the immunobiology of HIV and herpes viruses.