Vale Professor Ruth Bishop AC

Burnet Institute

15 June, 2022

Professor Ruth Bishop AC, with Her Excellency The Honourable Linda Dessau AC, Governor of Victoria at Professor Bishop's investiture in 2019 (Image courtesy Tom Bishop)

It’s with deep sadness Burnet Institute acknowledges the recent passing of Professor Ruth Bishop AC, aged 89.

An eminent scientist and microbiologist, Professor Bishop’s most significant discovery was the identification of rotavirus, the major cause of gastroenteritis in infants and children.

This discovery in 1973, and the legacy of rotavirus vaccination, has directly resulted in thousands of children’s lives being saved around the world, especially in low-income countries.

“It is no exaggeration to say Professor Ruth Bishop AC will go down as one of the most impactful Australians in history,” Burnet Institute Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC, said.

“She made an immense, ongoing global contribution, from a discovery that led to millions of children being protected against an often-lethal disease, to inspiring one of the world’s greatest organisations for global good, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“She will be deeply missed but leaves a legacy that will never fade.”

As a research microbiologist in the 1960s at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Professor Bishop’s collaborative work into the causes of childhood gastroenteritis led to the discovery of rotavirus, responsible for the deaths of half a million children worldwide each year.

Further epidemiological studies co-directed by Professor Bishop within Australia and globally helped to inform the international development of rotavirus vaccines.

“Ruth Bishop made an enormous contribution to virology and global health through her discovery of rotavirus, a major cause of childhood enteritis,” Burnet program Director, Disease Elimination, Professor Heidi Drummer, said.

“She went on to develop diagnostic assays and contributed to the development of vaccines, and most notably the RV3 rotavirus vaccine under development in Australia.

“More than 100 countries have now introduced rotavirus vaccines into routine childhood immunisation schedules, and the number of hospitalisations due to rotavirus has declined by 80 per cent.”

Oral rotavirus vaccines were introduced into the routine immunisation schedule for all Australian children from July 2007.

Prior to the introduction of rotavirus vaccines, more than 10,000 Australian children were admitted to the hospital every year with rotavirus gastroenteritis.

Ongoing development led by Professor Julie Bines aims to improve access to the oral RV3 vaccine to protect children in resource-poor settings and in countries with the highest rates of child mortality.

Professor Bishop chaired several World Health Organization committees and was cited as a major influence on Bill and Melinda Gates in their establishment of their global health foundation.

“Professor Bishop will be remembered as a great scientist, a wonderful role model to women in Australian science, and an inspiration to us all,” Professor Drummer said.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Heidi Drummer

Co-Program Director, Disease Elimination; Scientific Director, Burnet Diagnostics Initiative; Principal Investigator, Burnet Vaccine Initiative; Co-Head, Viral Entry and Vaccines Group




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