Professor Steve Wesselingh – A new blueprint for medicine

After growing up in southern Adelaide and laying the foundations for his career with medical qualifications at Flinders, moving to the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) was a little like a triumphant homecoming for Steven Wesselingh.

Professor Wesselingh enrolled in the Flinders Medical School in the 1970s straight from school.

“It was a really exciting time. There was this atmosphere of incredible excitement and a feeling that we were changing Adelaide up a little bit – taking a new approach,” he said.

After studying overseas and carving out a reputation as one of the world’s leading HIV researchers, Professor Wesselingh enjoyed four years as Dean of Monash University’s Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences before taking on the SAHMRI role.

In 2011 he oversaw the construction of a $200 million purpose-built building for SAHMRI and has since proceeded to hire or co-opt more than 600 researchers to work in his new domain.

As if the establishment of an entire institute wasn’t challenge enough, Professor Wesselingh decided to leave behind decades of research into HIV and move into a new research field, examining the human role of the microbiome in immune development.

“It was exciting to change areas. Most of my research career has been around HIV and I still work in that area but it’s been really exciting to me to move into the areas of microbiome and innate immunity,” he said.

“In the microbiome area our team is examining the bacteria that colonise us and how they impact upon us. It’s an area that has been largely overlooked but is now emerging as an important area, and the publications coming out in that field are just incredible.”

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