Kirby Institute researchers join celebrations in Goroka for the 50th anniversary of the PNG Institute of Medical Research

Researchers from the Kirby Institute joined colleagues and friends in Goroka for the 50th Anniversary Colloquium of the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research (PNGIMR), held 28–31 August 2018. 

The PNGIMR was established by an Act of Parliament in 1968 and in the past 50 years has grown to become an internationally recognised leader in biomedical, social sciences and public health research. 

Innovative multidisciplinary research conducted by the PNGIMR led to the discovery that kuru, a transmissible and universally fatal degenerative neurological disease, was caused by an entirely new class of pathogen later known as an ‘infectious protein’ or prion. This ground breaking research subsequently led to the award of two Nobel Prizes and to the establishment of entirely new areas of human biology and medicine. 

The PNGIMR carried out the first pneumococcal vaccine trials among young children, and made a major contribution to their introduction worldwide. The Institute has conducted innovative research on malaria, lymphatic filariasis and arboviruses; typhoid, cholera and other enteric diseases; on sexual, reproductive and maternal health; and on diseases seen almost exclusively in PNG, such as pigbel.

Professor John Kaldor, Head of the Public Health Interventions Research Group at the Kirby Institute, attended the Colloquium to join his colleagues at PNGIMR in celebrating their milestone, along with the decade-long relationship with the Kirby Institute. The two institutes look forward to the prospect of continuing to build upon their collaborative research program in HIV, sexual and reproductive health. 

During the 50th Anniversary celebrations, Professor William Pomat was announced as the PNGIMR’s new Director. Professor Pomat completed a Master of Science at UNSW in 1997 and a PhD at the University of Western Australia in 2011. He was appointed an Adjunct Professor at UNSW in 2017. He has been with the PNGIMR for more than three decades and was Deputy Director for 4 years before becoming Acting Director in 2017. His Kirby Institute colleagues, with whom he has worked closely for over ten years, welcome the appointment.

image - Kirby Institute researchers join celebrations in Goroka for the 50th anniversary of the PNG Institute of Medical Research

“We are delighted to continue our work with PNGIMR with Willie at the helm,” says the Kirby Institute’s Scientia Fellow, Dr Angela Kelly-Hanku, who has worked with PNGIMR in Goroka since 2007 and currently heads its Sexual and Reproductive Health Unit. “We have already seen significant growth under his leadership, and look forward to continuing our work together to improve the health of the people of PNG.”

Associate Professor Andrew Vallely, PNG Team Leader at the Kirby Institute, was Deputy Director at the PNGIMR from 2010–2013 and has worked with Professor Pomat and Dr Kelly-Hanku on a number of ground breaking studies over the last decade, including the ongoing WANTAIM Trial among pregnant women and their newborns;1,2 and the recently completed Kauntim mi tu Study among key populations in PNG.3

There is now a strong team of Kirby Institute staff who work on the innovative and policy relevant research undertaken by the two institutes including Dr Michaela Riddell, who is based at the PNGIMR Madang site, Mr Steve Badman, Dr Stephen Bell, Ms Liza Doyle, Dr Praveena Gunaratnam, Dr Elke Mitchell and Dr Lisa Vallely, without whom much of the work Kirby does in PNG would not be possible. 

“This is a tremendously exciting time to be working with the PNGIMR. Willie brings new energy and leadership, and a commitment to research excellence and research capacity development in PNG,” said Associate Professor Vallely. At the Kirby Institute, we now have five PhD students who are undertaking research in sexual and reproductive health in PNG, all of whom are women, and four are early-career scientists from the PNGIMR. It is really exciting to see this progress and to be able to directly support research capacity in this way in PNG.”  

1. https://kirby.unsw.edu.au/news/papua-new-guinea-researchers-announce-major-new-clinical-trial-improve-maternal-and-newborn
2. http://www.isrctn.com/ISRCTN37134032
3. https://kirby.unsw.edu.au/news/new-study-finds-papua-new-guinea-has-hidden-hiv-epidemic-urgent-need-more-access-testing-and

PNGIMR are currently recruiting for a Strategic Operations Adviser, to be based in PNG. The position is being advertised through the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Specialist Health Service. Applications close 18 September 2018. You can view the advertisement here.

Date published: 
Monday, 17 September 2018

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