Swiss-Australian Scientific Collaboration – a success story

In the framework of Prof. Rolf Zinkernagel’s visit to Australia, SAAN organized two successful events, one in Sydney and the other in Melbourne.

The scientific collaboration and personal friendship between the two Nobel Prize laureates Prof. Rolf Zinkernagel (University of Zurich) and Prof. Peter Doherty (University of Melbourne) goes back to the seventies, when they worked in the same laboratory at the John Curtin Medical School at the Australian National University in Canberra. In 1996, more than twenty years after their groundbreaking work on how the immune system recognizes virus infected cells, the two scientists were awarded the highest of all scientific recognitions – the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.

Event. Rolf Zinkernagel.1In Sydney, Prof. Zinkernagel participated at two separate round table discussions with PhD students and post-doctoral scientists from the University of Sydney, the University of New South Wales and their associated medical research institutes. The Centenary Institute (Profs. Mathew Vadas and Barbara Fazekas) and the Garvan Medical Research Institute (Dr Jacqueline Stöckli) hosted these events that were extremely well received by the future leaders of medical research in Australia.

The round table discussions were followed by a public seminar by Prof. Zinkernagel, co-hosted by the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute (Prof.Bob Graham) and the Garvan Institute (Prof. John Mattick). The auditorium of 250 seats was filled and the audience was spoilt by a wonderfully crafted lecture that presented the highly difficult topic “Vaccines against infections” in a readily understandable yet at times provocative manner. The lecture was followed by a cocktail party sponsored by the Consulate of Switzerland to Australia (Consul Markus Meli) and a dinner sponsored by the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

In Melbourne, around 200 guests, including many prominent leaders from academia and the Biotech sector alongside a large number of early career scientists, attended a SAAN-sponsored symposium. The purpose of this event, generously supported by the University of Melbourne, was to celebrate one of the most high profile examples of what Swiss and Australian scientific collaboration can achieve. Held at Melbourne University’s prestigious Bio21 Institute, the audience was welcomed by Prof. Tony Bacic (Director Bio21 Institute), Marcel Stutz (Ambassador of Switzerland) and Prof. Matthias Ernst (President SAAN) to enjoy a memorable evening.

In his presentation, Prof. Zinkernagel challenged the scientific evidence for immunological memory that is commonly invoked as the underlying mechanism by which vaccinations protect us from harmful microorganisms.

In his similarly provocative speech, Prof. Doherty discussed approaches on how to gather, as a non expert, trustworthy information on scientific issues and developments without being overwhelmed by the less than objective but rather abundant “information” propagated by the various interest groups.

In their discussions, Profs David Vaux (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute) and Robert Medcalf (Monash University and SAAN) underscored the importance for international exchange at the cutting edge of biomedical science. Meanwhile Dr Ueli Nachbur provided a first-hand account of the
challenges and joys experienced by a Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)-sponsored scientist working in Australia.

During the following cocktail, an animated audience engaged over discussion on the themes highlighted by the various speakers. The Melbourne evening was concluded by a speakers’ dinner generously sponsored by the Embassy of Switzerland.

SAAN kindly acknowledges ‚Presence Switzerland‘ and ‚The State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation’ for their generous support of this
event.