August 21, 2019  Print

Following an extensive national and international search, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) is delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Philip O’Connell as its new Executive Director.

Incoming Executive Director Professor Philip O'Connell, WIMR Board Chairman Mr Philip Chronican, Executive Director Professor Tony Cunningham.

Professor O’Connell is currently Director of the Centre for Transplant and Renal Research at WIMR and Director of Transplant Medicine and the Clinical Islet Transplant Program at Westmead Hospital. He is a Conjoint Professor in Medicine at the University of Sydney and Sub Dean (Research) for the Westmead Clinical School. Professor O’Connell is a recipient of a senior NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship, and he is a past president of The Transplantation Society and a past president of the Transplantation Society of Australia and New Zealand. He is also a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences.

Internationally acknowledged as a pioneer in the fields of islet and kidney transplantation, Professor O’Connell has been instrumental in developing an effective procedure to transplant pancreatic islets into patients living with type 1 diabetes. While the procedure is in its infancy, it has already improved, and potentially saved the lives of hundreds of type 1 diabetics worldwide.

Professor O’Connell will succeed Professor Anthony (Tony) Cunningham AO as Executive Director. Professor Cunningham has been at the helm of The Westmead Institute for Medical Research since its inception more than 23 years ago.  

Professor O’Connell will assume his new role as Executive Director on 1 January 2020.


Board Chairman Mr Philip Chronican.

Mr Philip Chronican, Chairman of The Westmead Institute for Medical Research Board said, “Professor O’Connell’s appointment as Executive Director will see the Institute build on its enormous wealth of talent, dedication and knowledge, and the life-changing results that these generate. 

“I believe that his experience and foresight will be invaluable as Professor O’Connell leads The Westmead Institute for Medical Research’s in its ongoing goal to save lives and improve health outcomes for people globally.”

Professor O’Connell first came to WIMR in 2002. Since then, his research focus has been primarily on developing islet transplantation as a mainstream treatment for type 1 diabetes.  Professor O’Connell undertook Australia’s first successful clinical trial of islet transplantation, following more than a decade of research in the area. 

He has also focused on the use of genomics to develop biomarkers to help identify those at risk of renal transplant dysfunction. He has collaborated with colleagues at Mt Sinai Medical School in New York in a large patient-focused genomics project that identified a predictive gene set for graft fibrosis and graft loss. This is considered a precursor for the development of precision medicine in the field of transplantation.
Professor O’Connell said, “I am a nephrologist by training and got into diabetes research through my clinical position where we provided transplant options for patients with renal failure and type 1 diabetes. It highlighted to me the deficiencies in current management and showed how replacing the cell that makes and controls insulin release is so much better than giving insulin through injections or a pump.

“Biology beats technology every time.

“Now we are working to develop a cell-based therapy that is safe and available for a large group of patients.”

Of his appointment, Professor O’Connell said, “It is a tremendous honour for me to be given the responsibility of leading The Westmead Institute for Medical Research. Its strength lies in the outstanding people who work here. I am privileged to work alongside some of the most inspiring and committed individuals that I have met.

“For a long time, I have admired the vision and leadership of Professor Tony Cunningham.  To be stepping into the shoes of the person who essentially created this outstanding Institute is both daunting and exhilarating. We all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude and I will work tirelessly to build on Professor Cunningham’s legacy.”

Mr Chronican added, “I am delighted that Professor Cunningham is not leaving The Westmead Institute for Medical Research entirely. While he will be stepping down as Executive Director, Professor Cunningham will continue his ground breaking research into the immunobiology of HIV and herpesviruses.

“On behalf of The Westmead Institute for Medical Research Board, I extend sincere thanks to Professor Cunningham for the integral role he has played in leading and shaping The Westmead Institute for Medical Research.

“I welcome Professor O’Connell to the role of Executive Director of The Westmead Institute for Medical Research, and look forward to working with him to ensure continued growth and life-changing outcomes.”