James Lawson (Australian doctor)

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James "Jim" Sutherland Lawson
James Lawson.jpg
James Lawson
Born (1934-05-06) 6 May 1934 (age 81)
Nationality Australian
Education Scotch College, Melbourne
University of Melbourne
Occupation public health doctor and scientist
Known for - research on breast cancer
- originating public health services and prevention programs introduced as a standard part of Australian and international public health services
Spouse(s) Margaret Lawson
Children 8 children
Parent(s) Jack and Kitty Lawson

James "Jim" Sutherland Lawson (born 6 May 1934) is an Australian public health doctor and scientist, known for research on breast cancer and for public health services and prevention programs, currently in use in Australian and international public health services.

Early life[edit]

Jim Lawson is the youngest of three children of Jack and Kitty Lawson of Castlemaine, Victoria and the grandson of Harry Lawson, the 27th Premier of Victoria. During the Second World War, Jim attended the local primary and high school, then he was sent as a boarder to the private Scotch College in Melbourne. Subsequently, he began medical studies at the University of Melbourne, completed with the prize in surgery and a top place as an intern at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Following his interest in child health, Jim began training at Melbourne’s Royal Children's Hospital.

In 1961, he joined an International Red Cross expedition to the Congo. There he managed together with Gerry Joyce (another Australian surgeon) a District Hospital that had been abandoned by the Belgians following the Congo independence movement and revolution. The context was difficult, as a result of the period of turmoil of those years.

Afterwards, he came back to the Children’s Hospital, where he met (and married nine months later) his future wife, Margaret Ralton.

Papua New Guinea[edit]

Soon after their wedding, Jim and Margaret left for Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.[1] There he managed the children’s ward of the local hospital. Jim was later awarded a Doctorate in Medicine for his research into the best ways of treating Papuan children suffering from a range of infectious conditions, including pneumonia, diarrhoeal disease and meningitis.

Australian health system management[edit]

Jim and his family returned to Melbourne, following his appointment as Medical Director of the Western General Hospital. He later moved to Hobart, as Director of Tasmanian Hospital and Health Services. During these years, he became involved in activism, writing and publishing reformist books and articles concerning ways of improving the hospital and health system.

In 1974 Jim was named Director of Health for Northern Sydney. Here he developed a range of innovative services, which were afterwards introduced as a standard part of both Australian and international public health services:

  • the organisation of co-ordinated hospital and health services on a community wide basis,[2]
  • the provision of expert hospital emergency services in place of trainee medical officer based services,[3]
  • development of co-ordinated rehabilitation and geriatric services.[2]

He also introduced a series of public health prevention programs, including

  • mandatory safety architectural glass in windows and doors to reduce profound lacerations,[4]
  • safe children’s playgrounds,[5]
  • safety fences around private swimming pools,[6]
  • safe rules for rugby players to prevent quadriplegic neck injuries,[7]
  • health promotion among isolated rural Aboriginal communities in New South Wales,[8]
  • the successful development of groups as a means of improving social relationships among Australian mothers of new born infants(Lawson & Callaghan 1991).[9]


Jim Lawson was recruited by the University of New South Wales and as Head of the School of Public Health, he introduced Master of Public Health programs into the Medical Faculty at this University. During the initial AIDS epidemic of 1983, together with other colleagues, he met and talked to drug users, documenting the sharing of a single intravenous needle as the main factor in the rapid spread of the disease.

Breast and prostate cancer research[edit]

In 1998, one of Jim’s post graduate students noted the strikingly lower risk of breast cancer among Asian as compared to Western women and the fact that this risk rose rapidly when Asian women migrated to the West. Jim initiated further research, the first Australian investigations into viruses as potential causes of human breast cancer. The innovative outcomes of this research are:

  • the first identification by molecular methods of mouse mammary tumor viruses (MMTV), the known cause of breast cancer in mice, in human milk,[10]
  • the first identification of high risk human papilloma viruses (HPVs, the known cause of cervical cancer) in human breast cancer cell cultures,[11]
  • the first identification of HPV associated koilocytes (abnormal precancerous cells specific to HPV infections) in human breast tumors,[12]
  • the development of unambiguous evidence that high risk HPVs are present in human breast cancer and that they have oncogenic characteristics,[13]
  • the unambiguous evidence that MMTV is located in breast cancer cell nuclei and is associated with high expression of the oncogene WNT1,[14]
  • the first indication that some breast cancers may be as a consequence of sexually transmitted HPVs,[15]
  • the development of evidence which contradicts the traditional scientific wisdom that breast feeding is not associated with breast cancer,[16]
  • the development of evidence that localised breast cancers may have systemic influences in skin and hair,[17]
  • the first recognition that some MMTV positive breast cancers may have similar morphology (microscopic appearances) to MMTV positive mouse mammary tumors,[14][18]
  • contradiction of the scientific belief that estrogen receptor expression in normal breast tissues is higher in breast cancer of Western as compared to Asian women thus supporting the use of tamoxifen as a treatment for breast cancer in Asia.[19]

This research had shown that human papilloma virus and mouse mammary tumor viruses are present in up to half of all breast cancers in Western women. Whether these viruses are causal of breast cancer and not harmless parasites remains to be determined.


  1. ^ Lawson, J.S. (July 2003). "Rethinking McKeown". American Journal of Public Health. Retrieved 27 September 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Lawson J.S., Leaver, C., Cullen, E.K. (1979). "The Successful Development of Co-ordinated Rehabilitation and Geriatric Services in Northern Sydney". Australian Health Review 4: 1–10. 
  3. ^ Lawson J.S. (1969). "Management of the Casualty Department. A study at Footscray Hospital.". Health Care 1: 16–18. 
  4. ^ Oliver T.I., Lawson J.S. (1979). "Glass Laceration Injuries and Prevention". Medical Journal Australia 1: 190–191. 
  5. ^ Oliver T.I., McFarlane J.P., Haigh J.C., Cant G.M., Bodie A.M., Lawson J.S. (1981). "Playground Equipment and accidents". Australian Paediatric Journal 17 (2): 100–103. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1754.1981.tb01914.x. PMID 7305767. 
  6. ^ Lawson J.S., Oliver T.I. (1978). "Domestic Swimming Pool Drowning in Children. Positive Results of a Practical Prevention Programme". Australian Paediatric Journal 14 (4): 275–277. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1754.1978.tb02998.x. PMID 747547. 
  7. ^ Rotem T.R., Lawson J.S., Wilson S.F., Engel S., Rutowski S.B., Aisbett C.W. (1998). "Severe cervical spinal cord injuries related to rugby union and league football in New South Wales, 1984-1996". The Medical Journal of Australia 168: 379–381. 
  8. ^ Lawson J.S., Close G. (1994). "New Public Health' approaches among isolated rural Aboriginal communities in New South Wales". Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Information Bulletin 19: 25–35. 
  9. ^ Lawson J.S., Callaghan A. (1991). "Recreating the village: the successful development of groups as a means of improving social relationships among Australian mothers of new born infants". Australian Journal Public Health 15: 64–66. doi:10.1111/j.1753-6405.1991.tb00012.x. 
  10. ^ Johal H., Ford C.E., Glenn W.K., Heads J., Lawson J.S., Rawlinson W.D. (2011). "Mouse mammary tumor like virus (MMTV) sequences in breast milk from healthy lactating women". Breast Cancer Research Treatment. 
  11. ^ Heng B., Glenn W.K., Lee J.H.K., Tan X.V., Lawson J.S., Whitaker N.J. (2010). "Is HPV-18 present in human breast cancer cell lines?". British Journal of Cancer 102 (10): 1551–1552. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6605672. 
  12. ^ Lawson J.S., Glenn W.K., Heng B., Ye Y., Tran B., Lutze-Mann L., Whitaker N.J. (2009). "Koilocytes indicate a role for human papilloma virus in breast cancer". British Journal of Cancer 101 (8): 1351–1356. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6605328. 
  13. ^ Heng B., Glenn W.K., Ye Y., Tran D., Delprado W., Lutze-Mann L., Whitaker N.J., Lawson J.S. (2009). "Human papilloma virus is associated with breast cancer". British Journal of Cancer 101 (8): 1345–1350. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6605282. PMC 2737128. PMID 19724278. 
  14. ^ a b Lawson J.S, and Heng B. (2010). "Viruses and Breast Cancer". Review. Cancers 2: 752–772. doi:10.3390/cancers2020752. 
  15. ^ Lawson J.S., Glenn W.K., Whitaker N.J. (2008). "Breast cancer, human papilloma virus and sexual activities". British Journal of Cancer 98 (2): 510–511. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6604104. 
  16. ^ Lawson J.S., Heads J., Glenn W.K., Whitaker N.J. (2007). "Breastfeeding, breast milk and viruses". BMC Women's Health 7: 17–20. doi:10.1186/1472-6874-7-17. 
  17. ^ Lawson J.S., Tran D.D. (2007). "Localised breast cancers may have systemic influences on skin and hair". Journal of Clinical Pathology 60: 180–184. doi:10.1136/jcp.2006.038158. 
  18. ^ Lawson J.S., Tran D.D., Carpenter E., Ford C.E., Rawlinson W.D., Whitaker N.J., Delprado W. (2006). "Presence of mouse mammary tumour-like virus gene sequences may be associated with specific human breast cancer morphology". Journal of Clinical Pathology 59 (12): 1287–1292. doi:10.1136/jcp.2005.035907. PMC 1860546. PMID 16698952. 
  19. ^ Tran D., Lawson J. (2004). "Rates of estrogen receptor-alpha(ER) expression are no different in low-risk (Vietnam) and high-risk (Australian) breast cancer". Applied Immunohistochemistry & Molecular Morphology. 12: 139–41. doi:10.1097/00129039-200406000-00007.