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A team from State Custodians recently had the privilege of touring through the amazing facilities of the world-renowned Garvan Institute of Medical Research. Find out what they learned.

Walking through the vast spaces of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney’s Darlinghurst is like entering into a strange new world. All around there are diagrams, photographs and parts of the building referencing all sorts of scientific shapes and formulas. It’s both mysterious and exciting knowing that so much tremendous brain power and achievement is housed under the one cavernous roof.

For the last few years, as part of its commitment to community initiatives, State Custodians has sponsored one of Garvan’s most important grants – The Edgy Ideas Award which awards $25,000 annually to a young scientist whose proposal shows great scientific endeavor.

Recently members of the State Custodians team were given a guided tour through Garvan and also got to meet the 2017 award winner Dr Joanne Reed. Along the way they learnt about the organisation’s history and amazing array of achievements. Above is a snapshot.

In above photo: (from left to right) Rick Dryden, State Custodians' Web Content Manager; Claudia Safarian, State Custodians' Marketing and Design Coordinator; Blake Hall, State Custodians' Channel Marketing Manager; Will Keall, State Custodians' Head of Marketing; Dr Joanne Reed, 2017 Young Garvan Edgy Ideas Award Winner; and Emma Grant, State Custodians' Marketing Coordinator


  • Garvan began its existence as a small research department of St Vincent's Hospital in Darlinghurst. The Sisters of Charity, who founded the hospital in 1857, used funds raised from their Centenary Appeal to establish the institute. One major donor was Helen Mills, who contributed 100,000 pounds. She requested the Institute be named after her late father, James Patrick Garvan – a distinguished NSW parliamentarian and business leader.

    The original building was officially opened in 1963, after which the Garvan saw an expansion of staff and arrival of key senior researchers. Today the Garvan has 700 staff including 600 researchers.

Research divisions

  • The six main research divisions are based in a state-of-the-art research facility designed by renowned Australian architect Ken Woolley. Incorporating the old St Vincent's Hospital Nurses Home, the building features an iconic DNA-inspired helical staircase, and a dome-covered atrium. In the unlikely event of a chemical spill, the glass panels of the atrium can open to let dangerous gases escape.

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    In photos: (L) DNA-inspired helical stair case, and (R) glass panels of the dome-covered atrium which can be opened to let dangerous gases escape in the event of a chemical spill.

  • After gazing up at the impressive atrium, the SC team visited several large state-of-the-art research divisions including:

    • Bone biology division – dedicated to improving the diagnosis, treatment and quality of life for people affected by skeletal disorders through fundamental discoveries and innovative applications in laboratory and clinical research.

      Cancer division – committed to identifying the mechanisms that drive the development and progression of human cancers and to use this information to develop new biomarkers and therapeutic strategies.

      Diabetes and metabolism division – contributes to the worldwide effort to understand the causal relationships between genetics, the environment and the development of diabetes. Aims to enable the prediction, prevention and treatment of metabolic disease

      Genomics and epigenetics division – aims to interpret the information encoded within the genome and analyse how the pattern of spatial and temporal epigenetic processes control human development.

      Immunology division – determines how the immune system functions to protect the body and how this goes wrong when disease occurs and aims to devise treatments for immunological diseases.

      Neuroscience division – aims to increase understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underpin the capacity of the human brain to learn and to think, and the alterations in neuronal systems involved in disorders such as Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, eating disorders and pain.

The work of Dr Joanne Reed

  • As part of the tour the SC team got to meet Dr Joanne Reed – last year’s recipient of the Edgy Ideas Award. Joanne, who has an undergraduate degree in molecular biology and a PhD in immunology, formulated an idea to look at thousands of “rogue cells” which cause autoimmune diseases such as lupus and type 1 diabetes in just one second through a process called flow cytometry.

  • garvan-institute-joanne-reed-young-garvan-edgy-ideas-award-winner

    In photo: Dr Joanne Reed, Winner of 2017 Young Garvan Edgy Ideas Award

  • Dr Reed took the team into the laboratory to give them an update on the next important phase of her work on flow cytometry which will potentially bring down the cost of a patient’s cell analysis from $50,000 to just $413. This will then greatly free up scientists’ time and resources in order to concentrate on finding cures.

Garvan major breakthroughs

  • Finally, the SC team heard about some of Garvan’s major breakthroughs including:

    • Discovering a molecule that can switch appetite on and off, explaining extreme weight loss in late stage cancer.

      Developing a test that may predict the outcome of prostate cancer more effectively than the standard (PSA) test.

      Uncovering the role of abdominal fat in determining risk of type 2 diabetes and influencing insulin resistance.

      Developing and commercialising a treatment for anti-inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

      Identifying the high risk of osteoporotic re-fracture and early death in men compared to women.

      Identifying a pathway that reveals how a stress hormone in the brain can suppress the immune system.

      Discovering that adult olfactory stem cells can spawn hearing-like cells, with the potential to restore hearing.

The State Custodians team were thoroughly impressed by the tour of this impressive facility and will continue to pledge support for this amazing and important organisation.