OTHER NEWS

FORMATION OF THE SYDNEY INSTITUTE FOR BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH

A group of 30 researchers from the Departments of Physiology and Anatomy & Histology has planned a research institute to further encourage collaborative research and to seek funding additional to that from conventional sources. The Institute, which may be unique in the way it is composed of academic staff of university departments, each with a track record of independent research and funding, and each of whom is active in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, is to be called the 'Sydney Institute for Biomedical Research'. Its constitution, drafted in 1994, should be adopted by the University soon. The poll to elect members to the first Board of Directors has been held, its inaugural research report will soon be published, and fund-raising activities are planned for 1995 and beyond. The preamble to the constitution is reproduced below.

Preamble to the Constitution

The Anderson Stuart Building, in which these Departments have been housed for over a century, is about to be refurbished. This entails the top floors of the building being allocated to research laboratories with the ground floors reserved for teaching of undergraduates. The outstanding research record of the active investigators within the building together with the building program for a cohesive set of research laboratories, calls for a major new initiative in the research profile of the investigators in the building. This is met by the following proposal.

The research output of the Departments is comparable, if not better, than that of the block-granted Institutes in the country. It is then natural that the active investigators of these Departments should join together into a society of researchers that may be identified as a Biomedical Research Institute for the purposes of gathering public funds for research as well as approaching Federal and State governments for funds that are at present only made available to Institutes. The uniqueness of the proposal lies in this society of investigators retaining their normal status within the Departments, so carrying out the functions for both teaching undergraduates and postgraduates. This of course has the advantage that the investigators of the future will be gathered from the undergraduate population within the Departments and trained in the laboratories of the Institute. NHMRC block-funded Institutes are affiliated with universities but do not participate in undergraduate teaching programs as do university departments. The present proposal offers both the advantages of university departments, with their ability to target appropriate undergraduates for research degrees, with that of a Research Institute with its capacity to attract financial support from both public and government.

The Constitution of the Institute offers a mechanism for implementing the following ideas:

1. Investigators with NHMRC and/or ARC research grants, competed for and held under the auspices of their Departments, will join together into a Society that constitutes an Institute for Biomedical Research. This will not have implications for their departmental affiliations.

2. In order for the research profile of such an Institution to be competitive with NHMRC block-funded Institutes, it is necessary to emphasize that successful NHMRC and/or ARC Chief Investigators will comprise the core membership of the Biomedical Institute.

3. A Development Committee is central to the Biomedical Institute as it will have the role of gathering funds to further research in the Institute. These funds are over and above those obtained by the individual Investigators (such as their NHMRC funds). Such funds will, as usual, be used at the discretion of the Chief Investigators.

4. The disbursement of funds gathered by the Development Committee will be at the discretion of the Board of the Institute. This will be chaired by the Director, who will be elected by the Board.

5. The position of Director will be honorary. It is expected that this will be an eminent biomedical researcher in Australia, who has reached retirement and would agree to take on such a position.

6. The Director would be expected to advise on the research in the Institute. The Director, together with the Institute Board, would be responsible for the disbursement of funds gathered in the name of the Institute by the Development Board. In this way the Director could greatly influence the future direction of research of the Institute.

The details of the relationships between The University of Sydney, the Board of the Institute, the Development Board, the Director and Members of the Institute are given in the Constitution, which appears in the 1994 Sydney Institute for Biomedical Research Report.

RETIREMENT OF BARRY GOW

Barry Gow retired late in 1994 and vacated his Laboratory in March 1995. Barry's departure affects the Department in a number of ways. He was a natural conduit to the Faculty of Dentistry, a great source of knowledge of the history of the Department, a strong supporter of infrastructure, particularly the workshops, and perhaps the last champion of acute mammalian practical classes. To mark Barry's retirement, and in view of his special place in our history, we have asked him to tell us his own story.

Genesis

After completing high school, I commenced a part-time Chemical Engineering degree at the University of Technology (now UNSW) while working within the paint industry as a trainee paint chemist. Within three years I moved to Timbrol (now Union Carbide) as a trainee design engineer where I gained experience as a design draughtsman. Partly due to disruption by compulsory national service and other factors, I became disenchanted with the prospects of spending my life as a chemical engineer and, to the horror of my late father, enrolled in dentistry, a career which I perceived would allow me to acquire independence as well as giving me a skilled manual occupation. However, it was Dentistry that introduced me to Biology and Physiology.

I was only eight months in practice before I realised that a life of dentistry was not for me either. I had found that I enjoyed the dental lab more than operating on a patient within the surgery, and also the regular visits of a certain anaesthetist and former physiology lecturer, Frank Fowler. At Alf Adey's practice in Glebe where I was employed, it seems that I talked about little other than physiology to Frank and I believe him to have been one who shaped my destiny. I was fortunate that the Dental Board Research Officer position at the Institute of Dental Research was vacant when I applied. Surprisingly, within about three months of my employment there, the Director, Neil Goldsworthy, and his Assistant Director, Harold Sullivan both died suddenly within days of each other, the former with meningitis and the latter with malignant hypertension. Ken Knox ascended meteorically to be Acting Director and encouraged me to take over Sullivan's project on the role of calcium in saliva. I discovered most of the bits and pieces of a do-it-yourself atomic absorption spectrophotometer which I assembled and added to over the subsequent two years, allowing me to analyze calcium and magnesium in saliva. I also designed and built a fraction collector which gave me insights into into the rudiments of digital technology.

Because the Institute was not a University Department, it was frustrating to learn that I could not do a PhD there. A connection with the Physiology Department was formed when Ted Cleary, Michael Taylor's MD student, discovered that I had the atomic absorption technique running. I was fully aware that dental graduates such as Cameron, Charlton, Griffin and Barker, had tenured appointments in basic science departments to administer courses to dental students, thus an appointment within the Department of Physiology for me some day seemed a realistic aspiration.

Early days

Those early days in the Department were very exciting for me. In 1965 I gave my first lectures, these in respiration, to Dentistry/Pharmacy/ Science 2(Aux) in 'The Barn' lecture theatre. Some of the practicals seem fairly unsophisticated by today's standards, one of which included measuring mouth temperature after a cup of tea (popular class), and another, pH colourimetrically! I became a temporary lecturer in 1966 and was awarded my PhD in 1970. I enjoyed the comradeship of fellow sufferers within the lab, Elspeth McLachlin and Roger Dampney, to name two. The rabbit prac class evolved about then, in response to the change of the Medicine course from six to five years.

The middle years

The expansion of the department during the sixties and seventies parallelled the competitive spirit among some of the Department's academics of the time. Duelling across the lunch table and sometimes down at 'the local' on a Friday afternoon provided one of the best spectator sports for both research students and other academics. Interest in lunch time dialogue, and consequent attendance, has varied much over my sojourn, becoming limited when the topic was vision and more vision to, more recently, an extended departmental business meeting concerning the building. Notwithstanding, daily dialogue with my fellows has been a source of enjoyment lubricated by the cups of tea.

My most productive period which led to promotion to Associate Professor was during Legg's PhD candidature. We had such fun with our first laboratory computer, exploiting it to automate measurement of atherosclerotic lesions. Another dedicated PDP11-03 automated a device to measure the local elastic properties of the arterial intima. We were well supported with grants, research students and even a visiting Professor.

Twilight years

Now that I have retired and spend lots of time gadgeteering, working part-time in the School of Biomedical Engineering and, of course, wine-making, I feel rewarded that I once worked in the Department of Physiology, for it is one of the great departments of this University by any criterion. I owe some success to the support of previous heads of Department: Peter Bishop, Michael Taylor, Liam Burke and John Young. The environment allowed me to gain many different skills while providing constant intellectual stimulation. As my late father kept saying to me up to the age of 99, 'Happy is the man whose hobby and work are one'. I cherish the times when it was so for me.