15 November 2022
Professor Don McManus, who brought ‘worms’ to QIMR Berghofer, playing a key role in enhancing the Institute’s Neglected Tropical Disease research program, has passed away, aged 73.
Professor McManus devoted his life’s work to the prevention and treatment of neglected tropical diseases with a focus on schistosomiasis and echinococcosis, two of the major parasitic diseases and the cause of much global suffering and economic loss.
“QIMR Berghofer has lost an outstanding researcher, a selfless and caring mentor, a great friend to many and a kind gentleman. He will be sorely missed,” said QIMR Berghofer Director and CEO, Professor Fabienne Mackay.
He published more than 650 articles in his 50-year career, which helped to shape disease control policy and practice leading to improved treatment across the globe. This included the landmark publication of the complete genome of Schistosoma japonicum as a cover article in Nature in 2009.
“Don had a tremendous ability to get the best out of people. He was always engaging, inclusive and encouraged his staff to dream and develop their ideas. Don recognised that he couldn’t stay on top of all areas needed to make a serious impact on the control of human helminth infections. His skill was to encourage his team of specialists to ‘dream big’ and if the idea was good, he would back it to the hilt. This is the reason his research excelled across the field of epidemiology, while also making significant contributions to vaccinology and functional genomics,” said QIMR Berghofer’s, Professor Chris Engwerda.
His many achievements include: honorary fellowships of the American Society of Parasitology, the British Society of Parasitology and the Australian Society of Parasitology in recognition of his work. In 2018 he was awarded the prestigious Sornchai Looareesuwan Medal for his outstanding achievements and excellence in experimental and clinical tropical medicine research. He received the National Health and Medical Research Council Peter Doherty Investigator Grant Award (Leadership) in 2020.
“Don will be missed greatly and his passing leaves a huge hole in QIMR Berghofer’s research program, but as Don would have said, others will come and step up to the mark. Just as Don did in 1989 – growing the Institute’s research to very high levels. Don will remain an inspiration not just to those who knew him, but to those yet to come to QIMR Berghofer,” said Professor Michael Good AO, former Director of QIMR Berghofer.
Professor McManus led a team of specialist researchers with diverse skills to target the control and elimination of human helminth worm infections. He was passionately committed to both field and laboratory research.
“Don was a person of the people. He was always engaging and inclusive and encouraged his staff to dream and develop their ideas. He was always warm and supportive of everyone he worked with. He remembered people, their names, and one always felt comfortable with him,” said former colleague Professor Malcolm Jones.
His research was ultimately focused on practical delivery, to make a difference to the lives of people who co-exist with parasites, particularly children with debilitating worm infections.
An important achievement for Professor McManus and his collaborators was the development of an education program and cartoon video called The Magic Glasses, which centred on the prevention of soil-transmitted helminths. The program was a huge success in rural Chinese schools where infection rates among school children halved.
The Magic Glasses program was also a finalist for the 2014 Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research.
Professor McManus’s vision was to consign neglected tropical diseases to history by developing an arsenal of diagnostic tools and public health measures.
His research had tangible benefits for the poorest and most disenfranchised people and will remain a legacy for health and medical research in Australia and beyond.