Korner, Paul Ivan

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BSc 1946 MSc 1947 MB BS 1951 MD 1956 Hon DSc (UNSW) MD honoris causa (Melb)

Paul Korner was the Foundation Professor and Head of the School of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of New South Wales in 1960 and the Foundation Scandrett Professor of Cardiology at the University of Sydney in 1968. From 1975, he was Director of the Baker Medical Research Institute.

Paul Korner was born in Czechoslovakia in 1925. He studied medicine at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1951 and completing his residency at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. From 1952 to 1953, Paul was a Junior National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Fellow at the Kanematsu Memorial Institute of Pathology and became an Overseas Research Fellow with the Life Insurance Medical Research Fund of Australia and New Zealand from 1954 to 1956.

In 1956, he was awarded his Doctor of Medicine from the University of Sydney for his work on The action of anoxia and noradrenaline in the experimental production of pulmonary oedema.[1]

In the same year, Paul was appointed Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physiology at the University of Sydney. Paul recalls:

[W]hen he returned from overseas, Peter Bishop had become the head of the Physiology Department and was very keen to establish research in a number of areas and provided a lot of support. At that time we had large teaching classes, which was not so good. The best thing from the viewpoint of teaching at the time was the BSc (Med) degree which had been introduced at the instigation of Professor Hugh Ward (Professor of Bacteriology) after World War II, which gave medical students the option of doing a year’s research and becoming initiated in science.

In 1958 he was awarded the Edgeworth David Medal by the Royal Society of New South Wales, awarded for the best research work for someone under 35 years. Paul says:

I had worked out how to estimate backflow in patients with leaky heart valves, using an indicator dilution method. I had begun this work in England when I worked there in 1954/55 and completed it on return to Australia. At the time it created a lot of interest in cardiological circles. But there are much better methods for estimating valvular incompetence now.

By 1959 he had become Associate Professor of Cardiopulmonary Physiology. A year later, he became Foundation Professor of Physiology and Head of the School of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of New South Wales, where he remained until 1968. According to Paul:

It was a wonderful experience to build up a department from the ground up. I started there in 1960 to get things ready and the course began in 1962 and we moved into the new medical school in 1963/4. The initial number of students was 47, which was fantastic after the 200–300 students we had had at Sydney. (By the time I left in 1968, the number was about 100.) We introduced a novel practical course modelled on what I had experienced at the Harvard Medical School. We had a relatively small number of lectures, but also tutorials etc, so that there was the opportunity of personal contacts. There was also the opportunity for plenty of research. In many ways that was the golden period of the Australian university system, with the Commonwealth Government spending quite large sums of money to get the new medical schools at NSW and Monash going, followed not long afterwards by the Newcastle medical school. It was a very satisfying period of my life from the viewpoint of being a University teacher.

Returning to the University of Sydney, Paul was appointed Foundation Scandrett Professor of Pharmacology in the Department of Medicine, and also became Head of the Hallstrom Institute of Cardiology at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital from 1968 to 1974. The Physiology Department at the University of Sydney credits Paul with being “largely responsible for establishing Australia as a leading country in cardiovascular research. He conducted pioneering research into the regulation of blood pressure, including the mechanisms that cause high blood pressure”.[1]

Paul recalls:

For me that was also quite an experience. The new department was located mainly in the Page Chest Pavilion at RPA Hospital. Both Professor Ruthven Blackburn and the hospital authorities were keen to establish a research department. At that time, we also established a Coronary Care Unit at the hospital: it was one of my most dramatic experiences in clinical medicine: to see the in-hospital mortality from myocardial infarction decline from about 30–40% to between 5–10 per cent in 1–2 years and even lower subsequently. We established a hypertension clinic, which led to a lot of my subsequent research on hypertension. It seemed to attract many of the hospital registrars to work there, amongst them, Peter Fletcher, John Shaw, Malcolm West, and Peter Blombery. John Chalmers had also returned to the Department of Medicine after his period overseas.

In 1970, he won the RT Hall Prize from the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand and in 1974, became a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. In 1975, Paul was appointed Professor of Medicine at Monash University, and Director of the Baker Heart Research Institute at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. “During his directorship, the Baker became the first Institute in Australia entirely dedicated to cardiovascular research and earned an international reputation for excellence in research on hypertension and atherosclerosis”.[1] By the time Paul left in 1990, he had secured additional funding (Block Institute Grant Funding from the NHMRC) and had established a highly competent staff of about 150, and in recognition of his work through the Institute, he had been presented the Vohlhard Award, the premier award of the International Society of Hypertension. Regarding this work Paul says:

Some of the achievements of our hypertension group were to emphasise the importance of the sympathetic nervous system in the development of essential hypertension (the most common type of high blood pressure), the reasons for the beneficial effect of regular exercise in hypertension and the role of structural changes in enhancing the neural signals.

Paul has also been active in the physiological community: In 1983, he became President and Chairman of the National Organising Committee of the 29th IUPS Congress in Sydney. From 1986 to 1987 he was President of the Australian Physiological and Pharmacological Society, and from 1987 to 1989 was Chairman of the High Blood Pressure Research Council of Australia. He was also President and Chairman of the Board of Management of Amalgamated Alfred, Caulfield and Royal Southern Memorial Hospitals between 1987 and 1990, and he chaired the Review Committee at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University in 1988.

In 1988 Paul received an Advance Australia Award for “outstanding contribution to medicine”. Paul was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1990 for “service to medicine, particularly in the field of research”. In 1991,[1] he became Emeritus Director of the Baker Medical Research Institute, Emeritus Professor at Monash University, and Visiting Professor at the School of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of New South Wales.

He is the author of as many as 330 papers, chapters and other publications and “has had a distinguished career, both nationally and internationally”.[1] In 2001, Paul Korner was awarded the Centenary Medal for “service to Australian society and science in medical research”.[1]

Paul’s book The Neural Basis of Essential Hypertension: Causes, Mechanisms and Treatment is soon to be released by Oxford University Press, New York. he has spent about 12 years on this project, drawing on his vast experience, including major research projects he completed after his work with the co-operative Research Centre Scheme. As Paul puts it:

I started on the premise that enough was known about essential hypertension to write an account about its causes, which would be helpful for future research. It turned out to be one of the most exciting projects I have ever undertaken.

Being ‘integrative’ is more difficult than most of us recognise, but it is also very rewarding. I have managed to come up with a new hypothesis on the role of stress and other life style changes in genetically susceptible individuals in the initiation of this disorder. The autonomic nervous system is best equipped in dealing with existing challenges, but in this disorder the brain places it into a near permanent readiness to meet future challenges. This has very adverse effects on health. However, the insights gained by analysing the primary and secondary pathophysiological mechanisms open up prospects fro prevention and better management.

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Korner, Paul Ivan. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.