Prof Rob Sutherland FAA AO
15 October 2012
Rob Sutherland, Director of the Cancer Research Program at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research for 27 years, inaugural Director of The Kinghorn Cancer Centre and Senior Principal Research Fellow of the National Health and Medical Research Council, died on Wednesday 10th October from pancreatic cancer.
Professor Sutherland established one of Australia's most successful cancer research programs, initially in the fields of breast and prostate cancer but later diversifying into many other solid cancers such as those of the pancreas, ovary, head and neck and lung. He was internationally recognised for his research into cancers that are dependent on sex steroid hormones for their development and progression, particularly breast and prostate cancer. He was especially proud of his achievements in breast cancer research, helping to shed light at a molecular level on how the female sex hormone oestrogen drives breast cancer cells to proliferate.
This basic biological understanding explained much of the action of tamoxifen and other agents that have been used very effectively in treatment of breast cancer. Consequently, Professor Sutherland is one of the mostly highly referenced scientists in the breast cancer field. During the 1990s his research group made one of the most significant advances in breast cancer research in the decade through discovery of the role of cyclins in breast cancer.
More recently Rob Sutherland turned his attention to the discovery of genes that could be used to predict the course of disease and the efficacy of therapies, and thereby guide clinical decision making. He became a driving force behind the establishment of The Kinghorn Cancer Centre, an initiative aimed at maximising the rapid translation of research findings to new approaches for personalised cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
Rob Sutherland was born in Gore, New Zealand and attended Ashburton High School before graduating in 1970 with a M Agr Sc from Lincoln College, University of Canterbury. After moving to Australia and completing a PhD at the Australian National University in Canberra in 1974, he studied as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow with Professor Étienne-Émile Baulieu at the Faculte de Medecine de Paris-Sud in Paris. Returning to Australia in 1978 he became a Senior Research Fellow at Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and Reader in Cancer Medicine, University of Sydney. In 1985 Rob Sutherland moved to the Garvan Institute of Medical Research to become Head of the Cell Biology Group, which later evolved into the Cancer Research Program. He became Professor, Department of Medicine, University of New South Wales in 1991.
In 2000, Professor Sutherland was awarded the Ramaciotti Medal for excellence in biomedical research. In 2002 he was admitted as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science; in 2003 he was awarded the Centenary of Federation Medal for his service to Australian society and science in molecular and cellular biology; in 2009 he was awarded Life Membership of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation; in 2010 he was awarded the NSW Premier's Award for Outstanding Cancer Researcher and in 2012 he was admitted as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Australiasian College of Surgeons. In 2010 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) “for distinguished service to medicine as an international contributor to the research of cancer, the development of Australia's research capacity and through leadership roles in advisory bodies.”
Professor Sutherland has served on various committees of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Cancer Council NSW, the Cancer Institute NSW and Cancer Australia. He is also a former Board member of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, Cancer Council NSW and Cancer Institute NSW.
In addition to being a gifted scientist, Rob Sutherland was an international leader in cancer research with an unswerving commitment to excellence and the critical role of research in addressing the challenge of cancer prevention and treatment. His lifelong dedication to elucidating the molecular basis of cancer development and progression has led to improvements in the quality of life for countless members of our community.
Rob was a proud and loving father and a friend to many. He acted as a supportive mentor of over 40 postgraduate students and numerous post-doctoral scientists, who have achieved major success nationally and internationally in medical research.
A wine enthusiast since his time in France, Rob was also a keen rugby follower, ex-player and dedicated All Blacks supporter, and in recent years he revived an early interest in race horses.
He is survived by his wife Cheryl and children Andrew, Sarah, Rebecca and Charles and brother Alistair.
GIFTS IN MEMORY OF ROB
The Sutherland family has requested that friends and colleagues not send flowers, but instead make donations to the Garvan Research Foundation or the St Vincent's Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression. Please click on the name of either organisation above to take you to the appropriate web page.