Alumni Profile: Professor Ian Gust

image-2Professor Ian David Gust is a leading virologist, who completed a Diploma in Bacteriology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in 1968.

His achievements in public health include playing a main role in the prevention and treatment of Hepatitis A, B, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). He established the Australian National HIV reference laboratory and directed the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council’s unit for AIDS virology. In 1992 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for service to public health, particularly in the prevention of hepatitis and AIDS.

Ian trained to be a medical doctor at the University of Melbourne in 1958 and later chose to specialise in virology in 1965. As part of his postgraduate studies at the College of Pathologists of Australia, where he was undertaking a specialist programme in preparation for a career in virology, Ian studied a Diploma in Bacteriology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, graduating in 1968 at the top of his class.

Ian told us that “being a student at the LSHTM gave me a wonderful body of knowledge a valuable set of practical skills, an international perspective, some wonderful role models and mentors and an extraordinary set of contacts, many of whom went on to have distinguished careers. I feel great pride in what the School stands for and its many achievements”. “LSHTM’s mission to improve health worldwide is as relevant today as it was when I studied there”.

In 1968, Ian and his wife Dr Dianne Long who he had met at medical school in Melbourne, moved from Melbourne to Glasgow where he worked as a World Health Organization (WHO) Fellow at the Glasgow Regional Virus Laboratory at Ruchill Hospital from 1968 to 1969. After graduating from the College of Pathologists in 1970, Ian returned to Melbourne to take up an appointment as Medical Virologist at Fairfield Hospital, a position that he held for over 20 years.

Working at Fairfield was a good fit for Ian’s expertise as the hospital specialised in respiratory and intestinal infections, rubella, Murray Valley encephalitis, hepatitis and, from the 1980s, AIDS. During his time at Fairfield, Ian and his team developed specific diagnostics tests for hepatitis A and subsequently a vaccine. Ian counts his work on hepatitis A as among his most significant contributions, which he says would not have been possible without a team of researchers and clinicians who brought their varied skills sets to the problem.

image-3During the 21 years that Gust was at Fairfield, AIDS caused by infection with HIV came to the forefront. In 1984, when several infections in new born children showed that some Australian blood donors were infected with HIV, Ian designed a system to evaluate the five commercial assays then under development for detection of the infection and helped to introduce preferable assays into Australian blood banks and public health laboratories. As a result, Australia became the first country in the world to supply integrated HIV testing of blood and blood products.

In 1984 Ian founded and became the Foundation Director of the Burnet Institute, an organization devoted to reducing the impact of infectious diseases in the developing world. The Institute now operates in more than 30 countries and has more than 500 staff.

Ian’s most ambitious project to date has been a collaboration, which began in 1986, to form the International Task Force on Hepatitis B. The Task Force succeeded in convincing politicians and international agencies that hepatitis B was a problem worth controlling with available tools. As a result of the Task Force’s advocacy, hepatitis B vaccine was the first new vaccine added to the WHO Expanded Program for Immunization.

In 1991, Ian joined Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) as Head of Research and Development, where he contributed to transforming the government business enterprise into a major publicly listed company.

As well as his role at CSL, from 1992 to 2006 Ian also directed the WHO International Reference Centre for Influenza and, with directors of centres in London, Tokyo and Atlanta, was responsible for recommending strains of the virus to be included in each year’s vaccine formulation. He also helped to design and implement WHO’s response to pandemic threats.

Ian retired from CSL in 2000 and was appointed a Professorial Fellow in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne, where alongside his main responsibilities he is able to continue pursuing his interest in vaccine preventable disease and biotechnology. The main activity that he is currently involved with is the Human Vaccine Project, which he describes as “an ambitious attempt to define the human immunome and the rules of immunogenicity”.

Ian has worked in the area of virology for over fifty years where he has no doubt had an impactful career. He advises current students seeking a satisfying career to “seek out the action! Science is like surfing. First find a beach with good waves, get yourself to the foot of the wave and swim as hard as you can. With good timing and a bit of luck you’ll enjoy an exhilarating ride.”

Images taken from Ian Gust Tribute Dinner 2014 Document

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