Woolcock, Ann

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Ann Woolcock AO MD 1967 MB BS (Adelaide) FAA FRACP

Ann Woolcock founded the world-leading Institute of Respiratory Medicine in 1984. She was also the first woman in clinical medicine to be elected to the Australian Academy of Science in 1992.

Ann graduated in Medicine from the University of Adelaide to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Sydney with Professor John Read in 1964. Her MD thesis, awarded in 1967, was on the mechanical behaviour of the lungs in asthma, with emphasis on the role of hyper-inflation. From 1966 to 1968 she was Overseas Research Fellow for the Asthma Foundation of NSW at McGill University, Montreal, working with Peter Macklem. From 1968 to 1973 she was Senior Research Fellow of the Asthma Foundation of NSW and then Basser Research Fellow, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Department of Medicine, University of Sydney.

In 1973 she was appointed Senior Lecturer in the Department of Medicine at the University of Sydney, becoming Associate Professor in 1976 and being appointed to a Personal Chair in 1984. She founded the Institute of Respiratory Medicine (now known as the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research) in Sydney in 1985. Under her leadership, the Institute has grown and presently employs more than 130 researchers and support staff. Today the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research is considered one of the top six such institutes world-wide.

Her contributions to research have been mainly in the field of asthma, having published over 300 articles and chapters in books. Teams under her direction have defined asthma for epidemiological studies, documented the changing prevalence of asthma in childhood, and described the important risk factors including atopy, parental asthma and diet. Her clinical research team pioneered the use of full-dose response curves to inhaled agonists using the pharmacological model, and showed that the result depended on the volume history used in the lung function tests. They adapted tests of airway responsiveness for epidemiological studies and these tests are now widely used. They also described the shape of the response curves to methacholine in normal and asthmatic humans, and introduced the idea of the plateau. In the field of asthma management, she introduced the idea of a standardised approach and with others, wrote the Australian Asthma Management Guidelines, the first of the many since developed in other countries. The idea of such guidelines grew out of Ann’s clinical activities which included a weekly Asthma Clinic, her regular hospital work as a physician, and her teaching.

Ann has received numerous awards, including being made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1992, becoming the first woman in clinical medicine to be elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, being elected Corresponding Member of the Académie de Médicine Française in 1993. In 1998, she was awarded both the Society Medal of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand, and the Distinguished Achievement Award of the American Thoracic Society. She received the European Respiratory Society Presidential Award 2000 for Enhancing the Profile of Respiratory Medicine Worldwide, and that same year was asked to give the Distinguished Fellow Honor Lecture at the American College of Chest Physicians meeting. In 2001, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Medicine from the University of Ferrara, Italy. She was a founding member and President of the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology, and was the Principal Scientist of the Co-operative Research Centre for Asthma (CRC for Asthma) in 1999.

In recognition of Ann’s work in respiratory medicine there have been fellowships and endowments established in her name both nationally and internationally. On 31 August 2002, the Institute changed its name to the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in memory of Ann.[1]

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Woolcock, Ann. 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.