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Celebrating 60 years of discovery in medical research

As the Garvan Institute of Medical Research turns 60, we’re reflecting on our incredible history and the impact our discoveries.

Celebrating our past and creating the future.  

As the Garvan Institute of Medical Research turns 60, we’re reflecting on our incredible history and the impact our discoveries have had over the years. 

From humble beginnings as a small research department of St Vincent’s Hospital in 1963, Garvan has grown exponentially to become one of the most respected medical research facilities in Australia. 

Over the decades, we’ve launched countless successful studies and projects that have changed the way we think about and treat disease and improved the quality of healthcare worldwide. We’ve had made significant breakthroughs for diseases including rare cancers and cancers of the breast, prostate and pancreas, immune deficiency and autoimmunity, COVID-19, diabetes and skeletal disease. 

As we look back at Garvan’s history, we celebrate the progress that has been made and the impact we’ve had, thanks to the hard work of a lineage of brilliant researchers, generous donors and visionary leaders. 


Garvan Institute opening

Garvan Institute officially opened on 17 February 1963.


Measuring growth hormone

We developed an Australian-first ‘radioimmunoassay’ technique to measure growth hormone in people.


Lifesaving insulin infusions

We developed an infusion technique that treats ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening complication associated with diabetes.

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Garvan Research Foundation established

The Garvan Research Foundation was established on 1 January, to support Garvan’s research activities.


Genetically engineered human therapeutic growth hormone

Produced Australia’s first genetically engineered human therapeutic growth hormone.


Genes contribute to bone health

Demonstrated the strong heritability of bone density and therefore osteoporosis risk.

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Cyclins drive the progression of breast cancer

We made one of the decade’s most significant advances in breast cancer when we discovered the role of proteins called cyclins.

1999 to 2005

Growing nerve cells

We developed methods to culture adult nerve stem cells capable of generating new brain cells, giving hope that some neurodegenerative diseases could be reversed.

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First draft of the human genome sequence

The completion of the first draft of the human genome sequence was announced

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Genetic variation linked to Parkinson's disease

Garvan scientists identificated of a genetic variation that contributes to the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.


Discovered ‘switching off’ the Id1 gene

Cancer researchers found that by ‘switching off’ the Id1 gene, produced by the most aggressive forms of breast cancer, it is possible to induce a state of ‘senescence’, or permanent sleep, within a tumour, preventing it from growing or spreading.

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Gene silencing common in cancers

Garvan scientists demonstrated which sections of the genome are commonly ‘silenced’, or ‘switched off’, in prostate cancer. This work not only provides new diagnostic markers for prostate cancer, it suggests that all cancers show similarly widespread and specific silencing.

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Breakthrough study links Type 1 diabetes and Sjögren's syndrome

With collaborators, we discovered a new group of immune cells that for the first time directly link two autoimmune diseases, Type 1 diabetes and Sjögren's syndrome.

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Unmasking the secrets of pancreatic cancer

We sequenced the genomes of 100 pancreatic tumours and identified new mutations that lead to pancreatic cancer.

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Discovered osteoblasts

Garvan scientists discovered osteoblasts – or bone-forming cells – need to be able to respond to the signalling molecule neuropeptide Y (NPY), to pass on messages to the pancreas to increase insulin production. This discovery sheds new light on the bone-pancreas ‘road map’, pointing to new pathways that may lead to new treatments.

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Pancreatic cancer genomes

A breakthrough study of over 450 pancreatic cancer genomes showed that pancreatic cancer can be divided into four distinct diseases, each of which many respond differently to therapies, meaning this study has implications for how clinicians assess and treat pancreatic cancer.


MRI screens pick up early stage cancers

Our research, along with international efforts, showed that whole-body MRI screening can detect primary tumours throughout the body, at a curable stage, in people with high genetic risk of cancer.

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Psoriasis drug for osteosarcoma

A study suggested that a common treatment for psoriasis could be repurposed to treat osteosarcoma – a rare but aggressive cancer that affects young people. Researchers showed that blocking the IL23 molecule in mice successfully shrank tumours. Drugs that block IL23 are already safely used to treat patients with psoriasis, suggesting that they could also be used to treat patients with osteosarcoma.

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Sydney researchers develop rapid genomics strategy to trace coronavirus

A team of leading Sydney researchers pioneered the use of a fast genomic sequencing technology to help determine the source of hard-to-trace coronavirus cases.

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Survival strategy of cancer cells

Researchers uncovered a fundamental survival strategy that cancer cells use to develop drug resistance – stress-induced mutagenesis. This is similar to the process bacteria use to develop antibiotic resistance. This suggests that combining conventional targeted cancer therapies with drugs that target DNA repair mechanisms may lead to improved outcomes for patients.

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Researchers reveal a strategy for next-generation COVID-19 vaccines

Garvan-led researchers outline a strategy to generate future-proofed COVID-19 vaccines that can resist emergent new viral strains.

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World-class cancer imaging launches at the Garvan Institute

The ACRF Intravital Imagine of Niches for Cancer Immune Therapy (INCITe) Centre was officially launched. This centre houses two Australian-designed, world-leading microscopes that allow researchers to observe the interactions between cancer cells and the immune system in real time, providing greater insight into how drug-resistant, dormant cancer cells develop and function.

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Variant-proof universal COVID-19 vaccine

We are developing a variant-proof universal COVID-19 vaccine.

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