Professor Douglas Hilton PhD FAA
Professor Douglas Hilton was appointed Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and Research Professor of Medical Biology and Head of the Department of Medical Biology at The University of Melbourne in March 2009. Professor Hilton became the sixth director of the institute in its 94-year history and took over the reins on 1 July 2009.
Professor Hilton has received many prizes and awards for his contribution to medical research, including the Amgen Medical Researcher Award, the inaugural Commonwealth Health Minister’s Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research and the GSK Australia Award for Research Excellence.
At the age of just 39 he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and currently serves on this organisation’s Council. In 2008, he was recognized as one of the NHMRC’s 'Ten great minds in health and medical research'.
Throughout his career, Professor Hilton has been actively involved in the application of research through collaboration with industry. He is an inventor on more than 20 patent families, most of which have been licensed. He co-founded the biotechnology company Murigen and actively collaborates with CSL on a number of projects.
Douglas Hilton was born in the UK in 1964 and migrated to Australia with his family in 1970. He grew up in the idyllic outer suburb of Warrandyte, in the lower Yarra Valley, just north-east of Melbourne. He continues to live in Warrandyte with his wife Adrienne, sons Josh and Zeph, and their Kelpie, Jessie.
Doug Hilton was educated at Warrandyte Primary School and East Doncaster High School, where he recalls being inspired by “a fabulous biology teacher”. As a 19-year-old Monash University undergraduate, Hilton was introduced to the amazing world of blood cells when he spent the summer holidays in Ian Young’s laboratory at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra. In his Honours year and as a PhD student, Hilton worked at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute with two giants of molecular haematology, Professors Don Metcalf and Nicos Nicola, to purify and patent a messenger protein called LIF, which is used by laboratories around the world to culture mouse embryonic stem cells.
After his PhD, Hilton spent two formative years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Whitehead Institute, MIT, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with Professor Harvey Lodish. During this time, he worked on trying to understand how the dedicated receptor on the surface of red blood cells recognizes the hormone erythropoietin (also known as EPO), famous for its clinical use in patients with renal failure and infamous for its illicit use by some sports people.
Since returning to Australia in 1993, Professor Hilton has continued his research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute on communication between cells, discovering several hormone receptors and an entirely novel family of STOP signals named the Suppressors of Cytokine Signalling proteins or SOCS proteins.
In recent years, together with Warren Alexander and Benjamin Kile, Doug Hilton has established a new program using large-scale mouse genetics and genomics to identify which of the 30,000 genes in the genome regulate blood cell formation. The purpose of the program is to identify targets for the development of new medicines.
To assure such ongoing success of the institute, Professor Hilton believes:
- The institute must build on its tradition of forming collaborative teams that are close-knit, trans-generational and outcomes-focused, to tackle health questions of major importance
- The University of Melbourne must remain a key partner in training the next generation of researchers on a campus that is a beacon for the world’s best and brightest young scientists
- The institute must forge even stronger links with clinical colleagues at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the Royal Women’s Hospital, the Royal Children’s Hospital the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and elsewhere.
- Collaborations with the private sector, both in Australia and abroad, must continue to be actively and intensively pursued
- Cancer, blood cell research, immunology, autoimmunity and infectious diseases will remain cornerstones of the institute’s endeavours.
- The institute must continue to pursue well-considered technological and investigative innovations such as the successful Cory-era developments of structural biology, chemistry, high-throughput screening, and mathematics and computational science
- The institute should consider, in collaboration with indigenous communities and other organisations, how to play a constructive role in improving indigenous health.