Corporate entry Bio-chemistry Department (1927 - 1965)
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
- Medical Research
The Department of Bio-chemistry was set up in 1927 from a private endowment fund. Then in 1949, after the award of a Commonwealth Government grant, a bio-physical unit was established within the department. In 1965 the newly appointed director, (Sir) Gustav Nossal, reformed the department as the Biochemistry and Biophysics Unit.
The Bio-chemistry department initially had two roles. One was to assist other departments by providing facilities for procedures like protein fractionation. They were also responsible for performing routine biochemical work for the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Some clinical procedures the department performed included electrocardiographic work, the basal metabolic rate determinations used for example in diagnosing exophthalmic goitre, renal efficiency tests, cerebro-spinal fluid analyses and glucose tolerance tests in diabetic patients. The other role was to research the constitution of proteins, particularly globins from haemoglobins in mammalian blood. Work later expanded into innumerable biochemical studies, including an examination of lipids associated with haemagglutination, and the fermentation of fructose by baker's yeast. The establishment of Melbourne's first blood bank within the Institute in 1939 and the outbreak of war, saw the department's research focus shift. They took on research into the problem of blood storage for transfusion and the levels of carbon monoxide in fighting planes and armoured vehicles. They also prepared sterols for the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and carried out blood grouping of Australian service personnel until March 1946 (the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Committee then took over the role).
In 1947 the biophysical unit was established within the Bio-chemistry department to provide further support for the rest of the Institute, particularly those departments engaged in viral work. It was expected this unit would allow the isolation of 'cholera enzymes' and 'vaccinia virus haemagluttinin.' This introduction saw an end to the research side of the department, as it became an integral part of all of the Institutes' varied and wide-ranging viral and immunological work, and the hospital's clinical work.
Emily Geraghty & Annette Alafaci
Created: 12 November 2004, Last modified: 18 February 2010