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Professors Mark Scott (left) and Steve Simpson at the Charles Perkins Centre
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Celebrating 10 years of the Charles Perkins Centre

1 September 2022
A multidisciplinary vision realised
The Charles Perkins Centre celebrated its first decade at an event on 16 June 2022 on what would have been the 86th birthday of Dr Charles Perkins AM.

The Centre’s community came together in the building’s Atrium to celebrate our stellar achievements since 2012 and to hear the first performance of a specially commissioned composition, Something from Nothing, a creative celebration of the University of Sydney’s first multidisciplinary institute.

In 2022, the Charles Perkins Centre celebrates a decade since its establishment in 2012, supported by the proceeds of an anonymous donation of a painting by Pablo Picasso, Jeune Femme Endormie. The proceeds of the sale of the painting supported the endowment of four professorships to augment the work of the Centre, under the direction of Professor Stephen Simpson as its inaugural Academic Director, who commenced in April 2012.

The Charles Perkins Centre was established to bring together researchers from across the University and across disciplines to address the wicked societal problems of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and related conditions. It was to serve as a new model for translating the depth and breadth of the University’s disciplinary research into societal benefits through collaboration and partnership.

“In June 2012, our strategy for what was to become the Charles Perkins Centre, The Triumph of the Commons, was approved by Senate. It described a concept for the Centre that was based on complex adaptive systems theory – in my case, inspired by locust swarming, but without the cannibalism,” said Professor J Simpson AC, Academic Director, Charles Perkins Centre at the 10-year anniversary event.

The Charles Perkins Centre is a model of multidisciplinary excellence. It was the first of our multidisciplinary institutes and the basis for the development of our others. We recognise this achievement by foregrounding the importance of the multidisciplinary institutes which will be reflected in our 2032 strategic plan
Professor MarK Scott AO, Vice-Chancellor and President

The Charles Perkins Centre mission

“Our mission for society was to ease the burden of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease and related conditions by generating collaborative research and education that translates into real-world solutions. These are problems that require more than a medical solution – they are deeply woven into the fabric of modern society. All disciplines at a large comprehensive university like Sydney have a role to play,” said Professor Simpson.

“We were to establish a new collaborative, multi-disciplinary research and education Centre to effect impact. To do this, we designed, built, populated and operationalised the Charles Perkins Centre as a prototype for the University.

Once the state-of-the-art Charles Perkins Centre building opened in 2014, people were collocated from multiple schools, faculties and portfolios and from two medical research institutes (the Heart Research Institute and the Centenary Institute) and NSW Health (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Sydney Local Health District) – as partners in a new, shared academic community.

Celebrating 10 years of the Charles Perkins Centre

On the shoulders of giants

“The Charles Perkins Centre is on Gadigal land and we collaborate in the building and the Centre named after Dr Charles Perkins AO, our namesake and our role model. His portrait by renowned painter, Daniel Boyd, lives proudly in the foyer of our Atrium so we pay our respects daily, not just to Dr Perkins and all he stood for but to the unique nexus between creativity, health, research, and advocacy,” said Professor Simpson.

“The Charles Perkins Centre is a model of multidisciplinary excellence. It was the first of our multidisciplinary institutes and the basis for the development of our others. We recognise this achievement by foregrounding the importance of the multidisciplinary institutes which will be reflected in our 2032 strategic plan,” said Professor Mark Scott AO, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Sydney.

The first 10 years – real impact

This Charles Perkins Centre building officially opened in 2014 and was occupied and operationalised. The core research facilities were established; the Charles Perkins Centre/Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Clinic started to see patients and clinical trial subjects; teaching began; a new model of shared high-quality labs with centralised research and education technical support commenced.

“We recruited 18 professors across faculties, many on large external gifts and fellowships; they, in turn, attracted younger rising stars, establishing a vibrant early- and mid-career researcher community.

The vision for the Centre attracted donors, champions, and attention. Collaborative projects blossomed with outputs growing exponentially, creating an organic meshwork of productive collaborations across the University and beyond, funded by new grants, philanthropy, and external partnerships.

“We soon had 1,200 members across disciplines and locations, half of whom were EMCRs. We have CPC hubs at Nepean and Westmead. Today we see 10,000 patients and welcome 20,000 students a year,” said Professor Simpson.

Key achievements

Some of the Charles Perkins Centre key achievements during this phase include the establishment of the Sydney Food and Nutrition Network by Professor David Raubenheimer; leading the national Decadal Plan for Nutrition Science; the establishment of the Cardiovascular Initiative and the Australian Cardiovascular Alliance by Professor Gemma Figtree; the launch of The Obesity Collective with Tiffany Petre as Director; InsideOut Institute under the leadership of Associate Professor Sarah Maguire, and the subsequent establishment of the Australian Eating Disorders Research & Translation Centre in 2021; Professor Lindsey Reece and Prevention Research Collaboration colleagues and the establishment of the SPRINTER program with NSW Sport; the Judy Harris-supported Writer in Residence Fellowship at the Charles Perkins Centre; Professor Tony Weiss’ spin-out of Elastogen to Allergan; Professors Greg Whitwell and Guy Ford from the Business School’s establishment of the MBA Accelerator Medical Discovery Partnering program. 

“All the while, our core emerging basic biomedical strength in Metabolic Systems Biology grew to prominence – this common biology underpins much of health and ageing and is shaped by nutrition, sleep and physical activity, providing a new model for health which focuses on what is shared by multiple health conditions, not on what is different.”

But then along came COVID and the world changed. The Charles Perkins Centres researchers showed their ability to pivot and work with the community to address the global pandemic.

“Our Professor Eddie Holmes sequenced the SARS CoV-2 genome and made it available to the world. As well, we supported NSW Health in the CPC/RPA Clinic with the rollout of the vaccine to the community under the leadership of Professor Ian Caterson. While Professor David James’ team produced ground-breaking work on the cytokine storm and the systemic impact of the virus, as Professor Warwick Anderson wrote on the social implications of COVID and its modelling, and biomedical engineering students set up manufacturing face visors in the Charles Perkins Centre’s X-lab,” he said.

The next 10 years – reconceiving health

The Centre’s goal for the next decade goal is to reconceive the systems of health says Professor Simpson. “It will be a truly integrated view of health and society that embraces and seeks to understand the intimate relationships between human biology, our anthropogenic environment, and the natural world. In that nexus lie many of the major challenges facing humanity.

“Our future opportunities and development lie in precinct developments – Royal Prince Alfred Hospital redevelopment, Sydney Biomedical Accelerator, Tech Central, and our proximity to and links with Sydney Nano and the Brain and Mind Centre,” he said. 

The Charles Perkins Centre and its sister multidisciplinary institutes, illustrate the innovation of the Sydney MDI Model as a way to make a large comprehensive university tangibly relevant to civil society.

“We have worked hard, collaborated widely, created impact, and achieved a great deal over the past ten years. We are so looking forward to the next phase of the Charles Perkins Centre with our existing community, and to growing our reach up to 2032,” said Professor Simpson.

“As a university community, we are so proud of the Charles Perkins Centre. We have so much to learn from what happens here. Our thanks to you all as you celebrate your first ten years, especially the inspired and visionary leadership of Steve Simpson,” said the Vice-Chancellor.

Something from Nothing

The Charles Perkins Centre community celebrated on 16 June at an event in the building’s Atrium with a performance of Something from Nothing by composer Natalie Nicolas, a piece which was enabled by the Health and creativity research node, of which Natalie is the lead. Read the full story, watch the performance video, and download the music.