University Centre recruiting Chairs to lead world-changing research

21 November 2012

Obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are among the leading causes of mortality, disability and reduced quality of life in Australia, says Professor Steve Simpson (right).
Obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are among the leading causes of mortality, disability and reduced quality of life in Australia, says Professor Steve Simpson (right).

The University of Sydney has launched an international recruitment campaign for 10 new chair and professorial positions to spearhead its unique cross disciplinary research into obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

These new positions will all be based in the Charles Perkins Centre, named after a visionary Australian and University of Sydney graduate, Dr Charles Perkins, the first Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander man to graduate from an Australian university in 1966.

The generosity of donors to the University of Sydney has made it possible to appoint this record number of chairs. Over the last three years, the Charles Perkins Centre has received a total of $27 million in gifts to develop innovative solutions to the complex issues arising from obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which account for half the deaths in this country.

Four of these chairs have been funded by the proceeds of the sale of the 1935 painting by Pablo Picasso, Jeune fille endormie, which fetched $19.8 million last year at Christie's in London. An anonymous donor gave the painting to the University on the understanding these new chair positions will be named in honour of the late Leonard Paul Ullmann who was an award-winning teacher, master clinician, advocate for evidence-based practices in social and behavioural sciences and lover of art.

Three Leonard P Ullmann Chairs are being advertised and a fourth is currently under negotiation. Another chair position has been funded by the Australian Diabetes Council and will be named the Australian Diabetes Council Chair in Diabetes.

The positions span a wide number of research disciplines, namely:

Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre, Professor Steve Simpson said the centre is searching for outstanding, collaborative and visionary researchers to help drive its mission of easing the burden of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, not just in Australia, but worldwide.

"These metabolic diseases are among the leading causes of mortality, disability and reduced quality of life in Australia and are an increasing problem worldwide," he said.

"At the Charles Perkins Centre, we are building a new understanding of these metabolic conditions. Our work is linked to research themes which range from nutrition to physical activity, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and the politics, governance and ethics of health.

"We are not the first to attempt to solve these problems - by a long way - so why have others not succeeded, and why should we expect to do any better? The vast majority of other initiatives worldwide have focused on obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease as medical conditions, concentrating on their complex biology at the levels of genes, cells and organs. These remain important subjects for research - and there is still a great deal to be learned - but the causes and consequences of these diseases are much more complicated than can be explained by biology alone.

"We need to understand how our biology interacts with our environment - how our risks of disease are affected by our psychological makeup, social factors, education, cultural norms, economic pressures, the built environment, agricultural practices, the food industry, information technology, the media, history, and the prevailing political climate.

"How, then, can we succeed? The answer is by bringing together the best minds to work across disciplines - not just from the medical sciences, but also from the arts and social sciences, architecture, business studies, education and social work, engineering and information technology, the health professions, and the physical, life and environmental sciences.

"More than this, we will engage and work closely with communities, government agencies, the health and education systems, urban planners, legislators and policy makers, charities and non-governmental organisations, agriculture, and the private sector," Professor Simpson said.

At the heart of the centre will be a state-of-the-art $385 million building - its Village Green. The new building has been designed to encourage and support collaborations, support "wet", "dry" and clinical research and enable education to adapt and flourish through fostering new ways of thinking and challenging the way the University thinks about the provision of infrastructure and services.

"This will be the largest research building in New South Wales and one of the largest in Australia," Professor Simpson said.

The new building is scheduled for occupancy in early 2014 and will integrate researchers across the University with Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH). By virtue of its location at the boundary between the University and the RPAH, the new building is well placed to facilitate collaboration between groups from the Faculties of Medicine, Science, Pharmacy, Nursing, Health Sciences, Veterinary Science, Agriculture, and groups from Sydney Local Health District (SLHD) including RPAH.

Since July 2008, the University has seen an increase in philanthropic gifts, raising over $220 million from nearly 21,000 individual donations. In 2011 the University of Sydney raised $79.4 million in philanthropy, a new national record in higher education, with a 33 percent increase in the number of annual donors from the previous year.

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For further information about the available positions and details on how to apply, visit 

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