Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet OM, AK, KBE

We are very proud to be named after the Nobel Laureate and our focus is remarkably compatible with his areas of interests - virology, immunology and public health

One of Australia’s greatest virologists and immunologists, Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet OM, AK, KBE (1899-1985) received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1960.

Burnet’s discovery of acquired immunological tolerance, of how the body recognises the difference between self and non-self was enormously significant.

His work here and more generally paved the way for numerous breakthroughs in our understanding of infectious diseases and the immune system and has led to the prevention and treatment of diseases in many different settings.

“Many of us have moments of genius but few are consistent. Burnet was extraordinarily powerful because he cared about ideas so much,” Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty AC.

In a unique tribute to ‘Mac’ Burnet, the Institute published a special tribute edition of its newsletter, IMPACT in 2010 featuring first-hand accounts and reflections from those who worked alongside him and those who were inspired by him to make medical research their life.

Download the 50th Anniversary special edition of IMPACT and enjoy reading about his life, his broader contributions to the community, the Nobel Prize-winning discovery, and the implications his research has had on science and more specifically in the area of medicine.

Burnet spent most of his working career as Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (1944 to 1965) and during his directorship led a change in direction to immunology, which at the time resulted in some controversy.

This ultimately proved to be a major win for Burnet, with a huge contribution to the body of scientific knowledge, part of which was the development of the phenomenon of immunological tolerance. His theory was later validated by Sir Peter Medawar who shared the Nobel Prize with Burnet.

The advancement of the field of immunology during this time was led directly as a result of the discoveries of Sir Macfarlane Burnet and this discipline has since gone from strength to strength.

The areas of vaccine development, tissue transplantation, and the development of monoclonal antibody and associated therapies, have all developed through Burnet’s initial work.

“Burnet was a lateral thinker with an unparelleled capacity to link apparently unconnected observations,” Professor, the Hon. Barry O Jones, AO.

We are very proud to have the Burnet Institute named after Sir Macfarlane Burnet and our present day focus is remarkably compatible with his main areas of interests of virology, immunology and public health.

Burnet Institute’s mission is ‘to achieve better health for poor and vulnerable communities in Australia and internationally through research, education and public health’.

While resource-poor communities were not directly the primary focus of Sir Macfarlane Burnet’s work, the impact of his ground-breaking discoveries have certainly opened the way for many of the global health issues that face these communities to be addressed.

He, like the Institute that bears his name, tackled the big issues that impacted on humanity at the time.

I believe Sir Macfarlane would have been very proud of the work we undertake and, like us, very enthusiastic about the impact our work has had and will have in the future.

Professor Brendan Crabb,

Director and CEO, Burnet Institute


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Burnet Institute

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