James Donovan Best

Citation for the Award of the Brownless Medal

The reputation of the Melbourne Medical School has been greatly enhanced by twenty-five years of outstanding contributions from Professor James Best. His longstanding leadership of research, teaching and medical practice has moulded the careers of students and colleagues and transformed the lives of patients. His expansive strategic engagement has built supportive external relationships for the School. These distinguished contributions have been planned and executed with a vision that evokes the clear-sighted ambition of his primogenitor, Sir Anthony Colling Brownless.

His outstanding contributions to medicine, both as researcher and physician, have been recognised widely internationally, not least by the award of an Honorary Doctorate from the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland in 2011. He has spent over 30 years conducting research into diabetes, insulin resistance, lipid disorders, renal disease and cardiovascular disease risk and shared the major discovery of a new glucose transporter protein GLUT12 in 2002. His broad approach bridges the gap between basic medical research and clinical medicine with work that encompasses patient studies, basic physiology and biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology.

High-level strategic and reputational benefits for the Melbourne Medical School have resulted from James Best’s participation in the governance of associated organisations. He made an extraordinarily significant contribution to the advancement of medical research in Australia through two successive appointments as Chair of the NHMRC Research Committee. His representation of Australia at international meetings, negotiating with other funding bodies in the formation of the Global Alliance for Chronic Disease, working with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International and other international bodies on funding Australian health and medical research has been extremely important, as has his major role in reforming clinical trials with the World Health Organization. He has held honorary academic appointments in China, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the USA and served on the board of directors of three different Victorian health service and medical defence organisations.

As Head of the Melbourne Medical School and Chair of the University of Melbourne Medical Course Committee James Best oversaw the introduction of the new graduate entry medical curriculum. Throughout this change the Melbourne Medical School has maintained its precedence in Australian medical education and continues to be recognised internationally among the best medical schools worldwide. This successful transition is due in no small part to Professor Best’s comprehensive vision, personal conviction, and astute leadership.

The successful participation of a wide range of internal and external stakeholders in the yearlong celebration of the Melbourne Medical School’s 150th Anniversary owed much to James Best’s leadership of the program. The Anniversary raised the level of engagement between school, alumni, staff and students and has been foundational to the enhancement of philanthropic income streams in support of research and teaching programs. The sculpture that stands in front of the Medical Building commemorating the anniversary stands as an enduring symbol of his comprehensive vision of the history and future of the Melbourne Medical School.

The award of the Brownless medal to James Best – compassionate doctor, quiet strategist and generous mentor – is proposed in gratitude for the personal integrity, sharp intellect and unrivalled commitment demonstrated through his leadership of the Melbourne Medical School through a period of transformational change.