Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

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Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
Walter and Eliza Hall logo
Motto Fiat Lux (Let there be light)
Formation 1915
Type Nonprofit organisation
Purpose Mastering disease through discovery
  • Parkville, Victoria, Australia
Professor Doug Hilton
approx. 800

Coordinates: 37°47′53″S 144°57′22″E / 37.798°S 144.956°E / -37.798; 144.956

Front of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research is Australia's oldest medical research institute.

In 2011, the institute is home to more than 650 researchers who are working to understand, prevent and treat diseases including blood, breast and ovarian cancers; inflammatory diseases (autoimmunity) such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes and coeliac disease; and infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV and hepatitis B and C.

Located in Parkville, Melbourne, it is closely associated with The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital. The institute also has a campus at La Trobe University.


The institute was founded in 1915 using funds from a trust established by Eliza Hall following the death of her husband Walter Russell Hall. The institute owes its origin to the inspiration of Harry Brookes Allen, who encouraged the use of a small portion of the charitable trust to found a medical research institute. The vision was for an institute that 'will be the birthplace of discoveries rendering signal service to mankind in the prevention and removal of disease and the mitigation of suffering.’

In April 1915 the new Melbourne Hospital agreed to provide a home for the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Research in Pathology and Medicine, as it was then known. A few weeks later, the new institute's director-designate, Gordon Mathison, suffered fatal wounds in the ANZAC Battle of Gallipoli. The floors set aside for the institute in the grounds of the old Melbourne Hospital were given over to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in 1918 until a new director could be secured at the cessation of hostilities.

Sydney Patterson was appointed the first director and took up his post in 1919. Patterson resigned and returned to England in 1923. He was followed by Charles Kellaway for the critical years 1923-44. Kellaway formalised research streams, supported aspiring local researchers, built up public benefactions and secured the first Commonwealth grants for the institute's researches. He also oversaw the plans and construction of the first separate institute building adjacent to the new Royal Melbourne Hospital, which opened in 1942. Under Kellaway's directorship, the institute came to achieve international recognition as a centre for excellence in medical research by the outbreak of World War II.

Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet was the institute director between 1944 and 1965, and he brought the institute to international prominence for virological research, especially influenza, and then for immunology. Such was the nature of Burnet’s achievement that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1960 with Sir Peter Medawar for the discovery of immunological tolerance.

Sir Gustav Nossal succeeded Burnet as director in 1965, aged 35. Under his stewardship, the institute grew in size and scope, with its scientists making important discoveries in the control of immune system responses, cell cycle regulation and malaria. During this time, the group led by Professor Donald Metcalf discovered and characterised the colony-stimulating factors (CSFs), which have benefited more than 10 million cancer patients worldwide.

Between 1996 and 2009, it was led by Professor Suzanne Cory. Since July 2009, Professor Doug Hilton is the director of WEHI.[1]

Current research[edit]

Currently the work of the Institute is centered on:

The institute is organised into the following 13 divisions:

  • Bioinformatics (headed by Professor Terry Speed)
  • Cancer and Haematology (Professor Nick Nicola)
  • Cell Signalling and Cell Death (Professor David Vaux)
  • Chemical Biology (Professor David Huang)
  • Immunology (Professor Phil Hodgkin)
  • Infection and Immunity (Professor Alan Cowman)
  • Inflammation (Professor Ian Wicks)
  • Molecular Genetics of Cancer (jointly headed by Professors Jerry Adams and Andreas Strasser)
  • Molecular Immunology (Professor Stephen Nutt)
  • Molecular Medicine (Professor Doug Hilton)
  • Stem Cells and Cancer (jointly headed by Professors Geoff Lindeman and Jane Visvader)
  • Structural Biology (Professor Peter Colman)
  • Systems Biology and Personalised Medicine (Professor Liam O'Connor).

The institute is one of five research centres to establish the ACRF Centre for Therapeutic Target Discovery - an Australian-first collaborative and comprehensive cancer research centre. The new consortium is funded by a $5 million grant awarded in 2006 by the Australian Cancer Research Foundation. The award is in honour of Australian businessman Sir Peter Abeles AC.[2]

In January 2013, scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Victoria (Australia) announced in an article in Nature that they had determined important details of the structure of the insulin molecule and how molecules of insulin bind to a protein on the cells of the body, related to the type 1 insulin-like growth factor receptor (IGF1R), after using the techniques of X-ray crystallography at the Australian Synchrotron.[3] Michael C. Lawrence, John G. Menting (10 January 2013). "How insulin engages its primary binding site on the insulin receptor". Nature Volume:493, Pages:241-245. doi:10.1038/nature11781. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 


The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute building (at the back) with the Gene Technology Access Center (GTAC) at the front.

The institute forms the department of Medical Biology at the University of Melbourne; graduate students enrolled at the University who undertake research at the institute can obtain a Bachelor of Science (Honours), Bachelor of Biomedicine (Honours) or Doctor of Philosophy degree; medical students can also study for Advanced Medical Science. Undergraduate students can also be part of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). During the 2005–2006 financial year 17 students obtained a PhD at the WEHI, while 17 obtained a Bachelor of Science (Honours). As of June 2006, the Institute hosts 60 PhD students.[4]

The institute is also part of the Gene Technology Access Centre led by Chief Executive Officer Jacinta Duncan, located next to the institute building at University High School, which provides education programs in molecular and cell biology for secondary students in Victoria.


In the lead up to its centenary in 2015, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute was undergoing a significant building redevelopment. A brand new west wing was built in addition to refurbishing the existing building, delivering several levels of laboratories and scientific support services and the institute almost doubling in size. The new wing was constructed through funding made available by the Victorian Government, Commonwealth Government and The Atlantic Philanthropies. The Institute extension project was completed in May 2012.


  1. ^ The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute announces the next Director. WEHI press release, 24 February 2009.
  2. ^ ACRF Centre for Therapeutic Target Discovery, Australian Cancer Research Foundation
  3. ^ Australian researchers crack insulin binding mechanism, Simon Lauder, ABC News Online, 10 January 2013
  4. ^ Annual Report 2005–2006, 126–129.


  • Macfarlane Burnet, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute 1915–1965 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1971).
  • Max Charlesworth, Lyndsay Farrall, Terry Stokes and David Turnbull (1989). Life among the scientists: An Anthropological Study of an Australian Scientific Community. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-554999-6.
  • F.C. Courtice, 'Research in the Medical Sciences: the Road to National Independence', in R.W. Home, ed. Australian Science in the Making (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 277–307.
  • Vivianne de Vahl Davis, 'A History of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, 1915–1978: an Examination of the Personalities, Politics, Finances, Social Relations and Scientific Organization of the Hall Institute', PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, 1979.
  • Vivianne de Vahl Davis, 'Sir Harry Allen and the Foundation of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research', Historical Records of Australian Science, 5, no. 4 (1980), pp. 31–38.
  • Frank Fenner and Suzanne Cory. The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. 23 July 1997, on the website of the Nobel Prize Foundation. Last accessed 10 April 2007.
  • Peter Graeme Hobbins, 'Charles Kellaway and the Burgeoning of Australian Medical Research, 1928–37', M Medical Hum thesis, University of Sydney, 2007.
  • C.H. Kellaway, 'The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Pathology and Medicine, Melbourne', Medical Journal of Australia, 2 (1928), pp. 702–708.
  • Gustav J.V. Nossal, 'The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research: 1915–1985', Medical Journal of Australia, 143 (19 August 1985), pp. 153–157.
  • Gustav Nossal, Diversity and Discovery: the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute 1965–1996 (Melbourne: Miegunyah Press, 2007).
  • WEHI Annual reports; partially available on the web starting from the 1997–1998 annual report.

External links[edit]