A lifetime of curing disease: Professor Charles Mackenzie

12 April 2019
Celebrating an eminent veterinary scientist and alumnus
Professor Charles Mackenzie is a global leader in veterinary science and human health research, especially recognised for his work on understanding and treating parasitic diseases in both humans and animals.
Photo of Professor Charles Mackenzie

Professor Charles Mackenzie

Professor Mackenzie's amazing career started at the University of Sydney where he studied for his Bachelor of Veterinary Science (1971) and PhD in Veterinary Science (1976). In 2017, Professor Mackenzie was also awarded his Doctor of Veterinary Science from the University for his work on ‘Studies on the pathogenesis and control of parasitic infections’.

“I have been lucky to have experienced many different high points in my professional career! Personally, I have enjoyed most satisfaction from seeing the health of people and animals improve through actions I have been involved with in some small way. Interacting with and gaining the trust and loyalty of colleagues in the many countries I have been fortunate to work in, has also been a great honour and is very important to me,” said Professor Mackenzie.

“Being able through my career to have seen the diversity, colour and environmental beauty of the world is something I feel so very lucky to have experienced.”

“Professionally, I have felt very fortunate to have played a small part in one of the most important paradigm changes in global health – the ‘One Health’ approach, which recognises the connection between the health of all living things. Gaining a glimpse of the amazing complexity and beauty of biology and its workings, while researching the causes of diseases is a privilege I value greatly,” explained Professor Mackenzie.  

“Interacting with younger colleagues and students, and sharing the mutual excitement of discovery and understanding with them, is also very satisfying for me.”

Professor Mackenzie’s contributions in pathology have been mainly focused on the tissue inflammation that develops in parasite infections, and the host immune responses that develop in these types of infections. After his early pathology research, he moved towards implementation of treatment for these diseases, focussing on the parasitic infections ‘river blindness’ and ‘elephantiasis’ in Africa and Latin America. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 2012 for his work in Africa.

Professor Charles Mackenzie shaking hands with a patient in Tanzania

Professor Charles Mackenzie in Tanzania.

Treating river blindness and elephantiasis

In his river blindness work in Cameroon and Sudan, his research was in understanding and classifying the skin disease associated with this infection, which in fact is more a skin disease than an eye disease. Professor Mackenzie still regularly visits and works in Cameroon and Sudan, and continues to teach in Sudan at the Medical University he helped establish in Khartoum.

His work on elephantiasis, which is a response to the presence of parasites transmitted by mosquitoes that causes enlargement of limbs and other body parts, has mainly been in Tanzania. There he worked with the Ministry of Health to set up the first drug distribution program in Africa aimed at the elimination of this infection and disease, which has now reached over 20 million people.

“Along with medical staff in Tanzania, we developed a strong treatment program for those already suffering from elephantiasis. Patient care for the over 50 million people suffering from elephantiasis in the world has been the major focus of my professional activities in the past 20 years,” said Professor Mackenzie.

“I have chaired a number of international and local committees on elephantiasis and river blindness, including at the World Health Organisation, where we developed the procedures that countries should take to develop care programs for all those already suffering from this devastating and disfiguring condition. This has been one of my major activities in the past 10 years or so,” explained Professor Mackenzie.

He is currently the Chair of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GAELF), the major committee that oversees support and advocacy for elephantiasis around the world.

“Parallel to this, I have also worked on understanding and developing new drug treatments for these types of infections and received large grants to do this.”

Research on a chemical spill, donkeys and bats

In his truly remarkable approach to battling disease and suffering around the world, Professor Mackenzie also assisted in understanding the devastating human health impacts from a chemical accident in India, donkey health in Africa, and a disease killing large numbers of bats in the US.   

“I am grateful to have, I hope, made an important contribution to the lives of thousands of people who were affected by a very sad industrial disaster. In 1984, there was a toxic accident in the chemical plant in Bhopal, India. Aside from those who died in the tragedy, the people who were exposed to the toxic gas released were permanently damaged and their lives irreparably changed,” explained Professor Mackenzie.  

“Our laboratory research and the experimental model that we set up at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, provided essential evidence that won the court case in India for all those permanently damaged. The victims then received proper compensation – without that research the people most likely would have been abandoned.”

He has also worked on the health of donkeys in Africa, an animal essential to the daily life of millions of people in this continent. He has researched and treated health problems that develop in donkeys, and found, for example, that donkeys in urban areas have vastly different and worse health issues than those in rural areas.  

In the USA, Professor Mackenzie is working with colleagues on ‘white nose syndrome’, a fungal infection which is destroying huge numbers of bats. This work has developed a potential treatment that can be used in the field – in bat caves.

Professor Mackenzie is a leading example of ‘bench to bedside’ translational medicine – demonstrating the practical application of his fundamental science research to workable and effective field solutions. His One Health approach to improve the health of the village, both global and local, over the course of over 40 years is truly inspiring.

Katynna Parry

Marketing Communications Senior Specialist (Science)

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