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An Australian scientist with a distinguished career in the field of virology. His two greatest achievements are cited as overseeing the eradication of smallpox, and the control of Australia's rabbit plague through the introduction of Myxoma virus.


The Australian Academy of Science awards annually the prestigious Fenner Medal for distinguished research in biology by a scientist under 40 years of age.


He was born in Ballarat in 1914, but the family moved to Adelaide, South Australia in November 1916. Frank attended Rose Park Primary School and Thebarton Technical School. He entered his new Medicare number as 1942 at the University of Adelaide.


From 1940–1946 he was a Captain and Major in the Australian Army Medical Corps with service in Australia, Palestine, Egypt, New Guinea, and Borneo, as medical officer in field ambulance and casualty clearing station, pathologist to general hospital, and malariologist.

Frank Fenner

Scientist (Virology)

Full Name

Born

Died

Frank Johannes Fenner, AC, CMG, MBE, FRS, FAA

21 December 1914

Ballarat, Victoria

Monday 22 November 2010

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

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For his work in combating malaria in Papua New Guinea he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1945. In 1938, uneasy about the rise of Adolf Hitler, he legally changed his middle name to John.


Following his war-time service he was recruited by Frank Macfarlane Burnet to work at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. Initially they worked on smallpox in mice, mousepox, for which he coined the term 'mousepox' and later on poxvirus genetics.


In 1949 he received a fellowship to study at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City, he worked on mycobacterium Bairnsdale bacillus, which causes Buruli ulcer, the third most important mycobacterial disease worldwide after tuberculosis and leprosy. Here he worked with and was influenced by René Dubos, who is one of the claimed originators of the phrase "Think Globally, Act Locally".


Returning to Australia in 1949, he was appointed Professor of Microbiology at the new John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University, Canberra. Here he began studying viruses again, in particular the myxoma virus.


Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Australia had severe rabbit plagues. Fenner's work on the myxoma virus showed that initially it killed rabbits in 9 to 11 days and was 99.5% lethal. Under heavy selection pressure, the few rabbits that survived developed resistance, which meant that the pest was never completely eradicated, but their numbers were reduced. Prior to the release of the virus as a biological control for the rabbits, Fenner, Frank Macfarlane Burnet, and Ian Clunies Ross famously injected themselves with myxoma virus, to prove it was not dangerous for humans.


Fenner was Director of the John Curtin School from 1967 to 1973. In 1977, he was named the chairman of the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication. The last known case of naturally transmitted smallpox occurred in Somalia in 1977. Professor Fenner announced the eradication of the disease to the World Health Assembly on 8 May 1980. This success story is regarded as the greatest achievement of the World Health Organization. Before its eradication, smallpox was one of the world's most virulent viruses, responsible for millions of deaths, and leaving many of the victims who survived with disfiguring scars for life.


Professor Fenner had an abiding interest in the environment, and was the foundation Director of the Centre for Resources and Environmental Studies at the ANU (1973), where he worked until his retirement in 1979, and which became part of the Fenner School of Environment and Society in 2007. He was a keen supporter of Australia having an ecologically, socially sustainable population. He was Emeritus Professor at the John Curtin School of Medical Research.


In an interview with The Australian on 16 June 2010, he predicted the extinction of the human race within 100 years.


He died in Canberra on the morning of 22 November 2010 after a brief illness, and days after the birth of his first great-grandchild.


Of the many honours Professor Fenner received throughout his career, there are the following:


Honours

Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), 19 July 1945

Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) 12 June 1976, in recognition of service to medical research

The Japan Prize (Preventive Medicine), 1988 (with Donald Henderson and Isao Arita)

Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) 26 January 1989, in recognition of service to medical science, to public health and to the environment

Copley medal of the Royal Society, 1995

Albert Einstein World Award of Science, 2000

Clunies Ross Lifetime Contribution National Science and Technology Award, 2002

Both the Frank Fenner building which houses the ANU Medical School and Faculty of Science, and a residential college Fenner Hall are named in honour of Frank Fenner.

WHO Medal

Mueller Medal (1964) and ANZAAS Medal (1980)

ANZAC Peace Prize

Matthew Flinders Medal

Britannica Australia Award for Medicine

2002 Prime Minister's Prize for Science

ACT Senior Australian of the Year 2005