Renowned liver physician Professor Jacob George has received an award named after two of Asia-Pacific’s greatest minds in liver disease – and is just the second person in history to receive the honour.
The Asian Pacific Association for the Study of the Liver (APASL) has bestowed him with the second Okuda-Omata Award, which is conferred to an individual who has made scientific contributions of outstanding significance in the field of hepatology (the study of liver diseases).
Prof George is a world leader in hepatology and continues to run significant research projects into fatty liver disease, which affects one in three Australians in their lifetime, and liver cancer.
He is a leading mind in Westmead Health Precinct as head of the Westmead Hospital department of gastroenterology and hepatology, chair of hepatic medicine at Sydney Medical School, and director of the Storr Liver Centre at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research.
“It’s a really great honour to receive this award, and speaks to the high quality of medical research in Australia,” Prof George said.
“It is impossible in this day and age for a researcher to work alone. All the work has been done by the team at the Storr Liver Centre which includes Westmead Hospital clinicians, PhD students who came through Westmead, and WIMR researchers. It is an honour for them.”
The award is named in honour of the late Professor Kunio Okuda, inventor of the Okuda’s needle used in liver biopsies, and Professor Masao Omata.
Prof Okuda founded APASL in 1978 with Australian Professor Lawrie Powell AC. Prof George trained under Prof Powell in Brisbane before coming to Sydney.
Prof George’s work combines laboratory and clinical research into translational outcomes, and what began at Westmead Hospital now involves 40 academic institutions in 15 countries around the world.
Up to 70% of liver disease was previously concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region due to the prevalence of hepatitis B and C. Australia is on track to completely eliminate hepatitis C by 2030, and hepatitis B is now treatable.
Prof George said the future global burden is fatty liver disease, which now affects one in four people around the world, and liver cancer, which is a very poor prognosis cancer.
“What we’ve come to understand in the past few decades is that you cannot develop treatments without understanding how and why a disease occurs,” he said.
“My focus has always been on the patients – knowing how and why they get sick, and whether we can either cure them or alleviate the burden of the disease on their quality of life.
“Research and new knowledge is the only way to cure the scourge of liver disease and improve the lives of billions of people around the world.”
The Westmead Health Precinct is one of the largest health, education, research and training precincts in Australia. More than $3 billion has been committed by government, universities and the private sector to upgrade and expand the precinct’s health services, education and medical research facilities over the coming years.