MELBOURNE, Australia, February 24 /PRNewswire/ --

The Board of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) has announced that Professor Doug Hilton will be the Institute's next Director.

Announcing Professor Hilton's appointment as Director-Designate, the President of the Board, Mr. Leon Davis, noted that the directorship of WEHI is among the most important scientific roles in Australia and, indeed, in the world. This fact had demanded the most rigorous global search to find a leader to advance the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute deep into the twenty first century.

Mr. Davis said that the recruitment and selection group, which was chaired by WEHI Board member, Chris Thomas, and included members from the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Health, was delighted to discover that the best person for the job was not only an Australian, but also a scientist of international renown who is currently the Head of WEHI's Molecular Medicine Division.

Professor Hilton, 44, will be the sixth Director of WEHI in its ninety-four year history and will take up his appointment from 1 July 2009. The University of Melbourne has also confirmed his appointment as Research Professor of Medical Biology and Head of the Department of Medical Biology at the University.

Professor Hilton will succeed current WEHI Director, Professor Suzanne Cory, who has served WEHI, the international scientific community and the Australian people with the utmost distinction since 1996.

Professor Suzanne Cory said that Professor Hilton is a person of great talent and energy, whose scientific acumen and achievements are accompanied by a deep commitment to inspiring young people from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds to reach for the stars.

Upon receiving news of his appointment, Professor Hilton said that he was delighted to be entrusted with the leadership of one of the world's leading medical research institutes. He said that to join the ranks of the Institute's leaders, alongside Suzanne Cory, Sir Gustav Nossal, Sir Macfarlane Burnet and Charles Kellaway was a sobering thought.

Professor Hilton said that he was acutely conscious of the prodigious efforts and achievements of current and past Directors, scientists and support staff, who had created the pre-eminent worldwide reputation of the Institute.

To assure such ongoing success of the Institute, Professor Hilton believes:

* The Institute must build on its tradition of forming collaborative teams that are close-knit, trans-generational and outcomes-focused, to tackle health questions of major importance

* The University of Melbourne must remain a key partner in training the next generation of researchers on a campus that is a beacon for the world's best and brightest young scientists

* The Institute must forge even stronger links with clinical colleagues at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the Royal Women's Hospital, the Royal Children's Hospital the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and elsewhere.

* Collaborations with the private sector, both in Australia and abroad, must continue to be actively and intensively pursued

* Cancer, blood cell research, immunology, autoimmunity and infectious diseases will remain cornerstones of the Institute's endeavours.

* The Institute must continue to pursue well-considered technological and investigative innovations such as the successful Cory-era developments of structural biology, chemistry, high-throughput screening, and mathematics and computational science

* The Institute should consider, in collaboration with indigenous communities and other organizations, how to play a constructive role in improving indigenous health.

Biographical Notes:

Professor Hilton has received many prizes and awards for his contribution to medical research, including the Amgen Medical Researcher Award, the inaugural Commonwealth Health Minister's Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research and the GSK Australia Award for Research Excellence.

At the age of just 39 he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and currently serves on this organization's Council. In 2008, he was recognized as one of the NHMRC's Ten great minds in health and medical research.

Throughout his career, Professor Hilton has been actively involved in the application of research through collaboration with industry. He is an inventor on more than twenty patent families, most of which have been licensed. He co-founded the biotechnology company Murigen and actively collaborates with CSL on a number of projects.

Douglas Hilton was born in the UK in 1964 and migrated to Australia with his family in 1970. He grew up in the idyllic outer suburb of Warrandyte, in the Lower Yarra Valley, just north east of Melbourne. He continues to reside in Warrandyte with his wife Adrienne, sons Josh and Zeph, and their Kelpie, Jessie.

Doug Hilton was educated at Warrandyte Primary School and East Doncaster High School, where he recalls being inspired by a fabulous biology teacher. As a nineteen year-old Monash University undergraduate, Hilton was introduced to the amazing world of blood cells when he spent the summer holidays in Ian Young's laboratory at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra. In his Honours year and as a PhD student, Hilton worked at WEHI with two giants of molecular haematology, Professors Don Metcalf and Nicos Nicola, to purify and patent a messenger protein called LIF, which is used by laboratories around the world to culture mouse embryonic stem cells.

After his PhD, Hilton spent two formative years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Whitehead Institute, MIT, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with Professor Harvey Lodish. During this time, he worked on trying to understand how the dedicated receptor on the surface of red blood cells recognizes the hormone erythropoietin (also known as EPO), famous for its clinical use in patients with renal failure and infamous for its illicit use by some sports people.

Since returning to Australia in 1993, Hilton has continued his research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute on communication between cells, discovering several hormone receptors and an entirely novel family of STOP signals named the Suppressors of Cytokine Signalling proteins or SOCS proteins.

In recent years, together with Warren Alexander and Benjamin Kile, Doug Hilton has established a new program using large-scale mouse genetics and genomics to identify which of the 30,000 genes in the genome regulate blood cell formation. The purpose of the program is to identify targets for the development of new medicines.

Pic available: Professor Doug Hilton. Access via The image is for use by the media, courtesy of WEHI. Professor Hilton is available for interview. Further information: Brad Allan Communications Manager, WEHI tel +61-3-9345-2345 mob +61-403-036-116

Brad Allan, Communications Manager of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, +61-3-9345-2345, mobile, +61-403-036-116