Highlights //

MWC salutes founding Principal Investigator

Professor John Fraser, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland, has stood down from his position as Principal Investigator (PI) with the Maurice Wilkins Centre, moving into an Emeritus PI role.

Professor John Fraser, who has been with the Maurice Wilkins Centre since its formation in 2002, says the ability of the Centre to move with the times and its strong governance have been key to its success. “I always felt that we knew exactly where we were heading,” he says.

John has been at the University of Auckland since returning to New Zealand in 1988 from Harvard University, where he was undertaking postdoctoral research. At that time, John’s research was strongly focused on the discovery of bacterial super-antigens, their structural features and what made them such potent toxins. Funded by a Wellcome Senior Research Fellowship grant, his work achieved a seminal paper publication in Nature in 1989, which he describes as his biggest research achievement.

“I was in the lab and it was the editor of Nature calling saying: ‘Can you send us a manuscript as soon as possible? We'll make sure it gets published.’ I’m yet to meet anybody else that has had that experience – I don't think they do that anymore!”

In the 1990s, John formed what would become a long-lasting and highly successful research collaboration in the area of microbial pathogenicity with Professor Ted Baker, Emeritus PI and the foundation Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre.

In the early 2000s, the Government invited submissions or proposals for the establishment of conglomerates of New Zealand’s top researchers in a variety of fields – Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs). That was the impetus for the idea for a biomedical sciences CoRE – the early beginnings of the Maurice Wilkins Centre.

“Really it was Ted that started it all off for us,” says John. “He called the group together and we sat around for several days deciding how we'd structure it. And it fell out very quickly, what areas we would work on… I can remember sitting at the kitchen table writing the application. Sunday afternoon, the week before it was due in, we were going through it all and it was coming down to the wire!”

 “John is very generous,” says Ted. “He was vital to the establishment of this CoRE. We had complementary expertise, and both believed in research excellence as the foundation. And the highly coherent group of PIs we brought together made it all work.”

Looking back, Professor Fraser says the CoRE model has been integral to the development of the biomedical sciences field in New Zealand.

“I think CoREs were transformative, particularly the Maurice Wilkins Centre. It has provided support more laterally throughout the country to provide opportunities for collaborative work, across multiple disciplines, which I think has been of huge benefit.”