Leading disease modeller appointed inaugural Fiona Stanley Chair of Child Health Research

27/02/2023 | 3 mins

Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia are proud to announce the appointment of the inaugural Fiona Stanley Chair of Child Health Research, Professor Melissa Penny.

“There are many complementary topics to my own work, including malaria, respiratory viruses, vaccines and drug development, so I could quickly see many avenues to combine my work in modelling and analytics to improve disease prevention and children's health."

Professor Melissa Penny, Fiona Stanley Chair of Child Health Research

The newly created position is named after eminent West Australian scientist, trailblazing medical researcher and founding Director of Telethon Kids Institute, Professor Fiona Stanley AC. 

The role was designed to support cutting-edge research in key priority areas of child health to create and drive an ambitious medical research program.

Professor Melissa Penny is a leading researcher in Malaria and infectious diseases, using mathematical models to guide drug and vaccine development, to inform prevention, treatment, and health policy for vulnerable populations.

Professor Penny takes up the role after leading the Disease Modelling Research Unit in the Epidemiology and Public Health department at Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, University of Basel.

She is currently a member of several WHO technical working groups, and her modelling work was instrumental in providing evidence for the world's first vaccine for Malaria.

Her research focus has expanded to include respiratory and other diseases. In 2020-2021 she was a member of the Swiss National Covid-19 Taskforce, contributing modelling to support vaccine and policy decisions during the pandemic.

After 17 years of impactful global health research in Switzerland, Professor Penny will move to Perth with her family to take up the Chair at Telethon Kids Institute and UWA.

She said she was thrilled to be joining two leading research institutions at a time when research into diseases is more relevant than ever.

Professor Fiona Stanley and Professor Melissa Penny

Image: Professor Fiona Stanley (left) with new Chair Professor Melissa Penny.

“I was blown away by the scope of impactful health research happening at Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia,” Professor Penny said.

“There are many complementary topics to my own work, including malaria, respiratory viruses, vaccines and drug development, so I could quickly see many avenues to combine my work in modelling and analytics to improve disease prevention and children's health.

"It was a great pleasure to meet Professor Fiona Stanley and I am humbled to accept a Chair named in her honour.

“I’m very much looking forward to learning from the community of global health scientists, researchers, and infectious disease modellers already at UWA and Telethon Kids Institute.”

Telethon Kids Institute Executive Director, Professor Jonathan Carapetis, said Professor Penny’s expertise made her stand out in a global field of highly accomplished child health researcher leaders. 

“When we launched the Fiona Stanley Chair, and the associated Lou Landau Chair, we hoped to secure world-leading researchers who will contribute to academic leadership and excellence in child health in WA and make an outstanding contribution to collegial life across our Institutions and more broadly,” he said.

“In Professor Melissa Penny, we clearly have someone who can live up to that aim and meet the expectations we have for a Chair that honours Fiona Stanley’s great legacy.

UWA’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Amit Chakma said the expertise Professor Penny brought to the role would be beneficial to child health research not only in WA but around the globe.

“The appointment of a world-leading researcher such as Professor Penny to this position will be invaluable to improving child health outcomes,” Professor Chakma said.  

“Her knowledge will help inform and create better medical preventions and treatments for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Professor Fiona Stanley said she was honoured to have the position named after her and was thrilled to see a talented female scientist take up the position.

“Professor Penny is an outstanding medical researcher, with an established international reputation in the cutting-edge field of disease modelling,” she said.

“Her skills will complement the existing talent that already exists in Perth, putting WA on the map as a global powerhouse for medical research.” 

Professor Penny officially starts in the role in the second half of 2023. 

About Telethon Kids Institute:
The Telethon Kids Institute is one of the largest and most successful medical research institutes in Australia, comprising a dedicated and diverse team of more than 1200 staff and students. We've created a bold blueprint that brings together community, researchers, practitioners, policy makers and funders, who share our vision to improve the health and wellbeing of children through excellence in research. The Institute is headed by leading paediatrician and infectious diseases expert Professor Jonathan Carapetis, with Founding Director Professor Fiona Stanley now Patron. Telethon Kids is independent and not-for-profit. The majority of funding comes from our success in winning national and international competitive research grants.  We also receive significant philanthropic support from corporate Australia and the community.

Media references

Alison Savage, Senior Communications Officer, Telethon Kids Institute, 08 6319 1073 

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