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10 May 2024

Institute news

Eleanor Shaw, Thomas Baker and Alice Baker, 1923
Eleanor Shaw, Thomas Baker and Alice Baker, 1923

Today, marks 98 years since the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute was established in Melbourne thanks to generous philanthropists.

The establishment of the Baker Institute in 1926 was the culmination of sustained effort by many people. Of note is pathologist, John Mackeddie, who wanted to improve the laboratory facilities at The Alfred Hospital to keep up with the exciting advances in medical research overseas. He was able to persuade his friend, the pharmacist and philanthropist, Thomas Baker, who was also very interested in medical research, to support his vision.

In 1922, Thomas Baker financed a biochemistry department at The Alfred Hospital. Following the opening of the new building in 1926, Thomas Baker and his wife, Alice, pledged ongoing support for the laboratory, that was named ‘The Thomas Baker, Alice Baker and Eleanor Shaw Medical Research Institute’ after the Bakers and Alice’s sister. With a handful of staff in a small laboratory at the back of the hospital, the Baker Institute was born.

The Baker Tower in the sunScientific research in the early years ranged from surgery to asthma and infectious diseases. The need for enhanced laboratory facilities and more space would be an ongoing concern for many decades as the Institute continued to grow in size and stature.

At the start of the 21st century, a significant investment from Mr Chuck Feeney and The Atlantic Philanthropies would prove transformational for the Institute. The Baker Institute moved from the back of The Alfred Hospital, where it had been located since 1926, to state-of-the-art, purpose-built facilities in 2002. This gift had many benefits, building research capacity and capability as well as collaborative opportunities. It paved the way for the development of one of Australia’s leading scientific precincts, the Alfred Medical Research and Education Precinct, integrating biomedical and clinical research, education and health care.

In 2008, the Baker Heart Research Institute —which had focussed solely on cardiovascular disease research for the past several decades — merged with the International Diabetes Institute to form Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.

The merger was both innovative and progressive, given the strong links between cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Now known as the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, we are Australia’s only multidisciplinary organisation dedicated to tackling cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and one of the few organisations globally that has such a multi-faceted approach.

Baker Institute Director and cardiologist, Professor John Greenwood said he had admired the Institute from afar for many years before moving to Australia from the UK earlier this year to take on this leadership role.

“It’s exciting to be part of this institute, which was started by philanthropy and continues to be an important part of our story,” Professor Greenwood said.

“Our focus is to help prevent and treat the world’s biggest health challenges and I am thrilled to be playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of this organisation, as we look to our centenary in 2026.”

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With the rising number of Australians affected by diabetes, heart disease and stroke, the need for research is more critical than ever.

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