World-leading HIV researcher Professor David Cooper passes away

March 19, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Professor David Cooper who was dedicated to the prevention, treatment and cure of HIV and other infectious diseases  has passed away in Sydney after a short illness.

Professor David Cooper

Dr David Cooper had been the Director of the Kirby Institute at UNSW which has issued the following statement:  “These diseases disproportionately affect the world’s most disadvantaged communities, and David firmly advocated health as a fundamental human right in all of his endeavours. His leadership as a clinician and researcher was extraordinary, and it is difficult to imagine our many collaborative efforts without David at the helm.

David was our inaugural Director at the establishment, in 1986, of the research centre that ultimately became the Kirby Institute, so he has served as Director for the entirety of our history. David was among the first responders when the HIV epidemic reached Australia in the 1980s, and has been pivotal in the ongoing fight against HIV. David was an internationally renowned leader, initiating ground-breaking, collaborative infectious disease research that has saved countless lives in Australia, and globally.

“David’s special gift was having both a huge intellect and a huge heart. It was his intellect that made him a leader in the global response to the AIDS epidemic and led to the building of the Kirby Institute. But it was his great heart that all who knew him, his family, his colleagues and his patients, could witness every day. He was first a clinician, and that made him a great scientist,” said The Hon. Michael Kirby, who was a close friend of David, and in whose honour our Institute is named. “We will miss him terribly and be all too aware of his absence.”

David’s record of clinical and academic achievement is unparalleled. In the mid-1980s, his research led to the first description of the seroconversion illness which accompanies initial HIV infection in many people. He then proceeded to take a leading role in most of the key trials that ultimately led to the optimal use of life-saving combination treatments that are now widely available to people with HIV all over the world. In 2003, he was made Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) for “service to medicine as a clinician, researcher and leading contributor in the field of HIV/AIDS research and to the development of new treatment approaches.” David was working right up to the time of his illness, running large-scale international clinical trials to improve HIV treatment, building research capacity in Indonesia and Myanmar, and leading the trial of pre-exposure prophylaxis to eliminate HIV transmission in New South Wales.

Under David’s leadership, the Kirby Institute grew from a national centre with a handful of staff formed to respond to the emerging HIV crisis, into what is now a globally renowned research institute with more than 300 staff and students, working at the forefront of the latest discoveries and innovations in HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections.

Our Institute is David’s legacy, and while we are devastated to lose him, we carry on his work with immense dedication, honour and pride.

Though he was humble about his scientific achievements, David spoke with the greatest pride about his family. His wife Dorrie and their daughters Becky and Ilana were as unfailingly supportive of his work as he was of them. To them we extend our deepest condolences.”

At one point in his career, David Cooper took on additional communal responsibilities as Vice-President of Sydney’s Moriah College. He was a member of the Moriah College Board from May 1992 until May 1998.  Robert Goot AM SC was the President at the time of his appointment to the Board and to the role of Vice President. Professor Cooper was a Vice President from 1995 until 1998.  The Honorable Justice Stephen Rothman SC was President from 1996 until 1998.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said: “In an ABC interview in 2015 Professor Cooper said his Jewish background helped him to empathise with his patients. His professional life exemplified the Jewish ideal of tikkun olam –  healing the world. He threw himself into the crisis sweeping Sydney’s gay community in the 1980s, recruiting young men in a study which led to a pivotal paper in The Lancet. He strove not only to treat the disease, but also to destigmatise its victims, participating in Mardi Gras parades with his daughters dressed as pills fighting the virus. Professor Cooper’s passing will be deeply felt across the Jewish community and we send our condolences to his family, colleagues and all those touched by his work.”

Professor John Ziegler came across the young David Cooper when he was as a medical student doing an elective term in the same immunology lab. . They formed a close friendship with him until his passing. He told J-Wire: “He was such a remarkable person you cannot compare his achievements with anyone else. As a human being, he was a complete all-rounder. He was a very skilled and caring doctor. He was a researcher par excellence. He was an advocate for the HIV community. He was on a personal level, he was hospitable, generous  and warm. He was interested in every aspect of his life and other people’s lives. He was a wonderful friend. He had one extraordinary intellect and started medical studies at the age of 15.”

Professor Ziegler is a world authority in HIV in children.

CEO of St Vincent’s Health Network Associate Professor Anthony M. Schembri added: “As a young social worker in HIV at St Vincent’s, I had the opportunity of working alongside David, and I can honestly say, the reverence his patients and his clinical peers held for him was extraordinary. His clinical brilliance was only matched by his love and compassion for his patients. He would always go out of his way to care and support his patients regardless of day or night, whether at home or on the ward.

In the interview on ABC Radio National in 2015, David said: “I thought, I know where St Vincent’s is. If the key risk groups are the same [in Australia], which I’m sure they are, then we were going to be seeing it at St Vincent’s.” Sure enough, on his return to Sydney, Professor Cooper was soon seeing the same disease patterns in the local gay community, and St Vincent’s location quickly made it the hub of efforts to care for people with this new and frightening condition.

Professor Cooper and his colleagues enrolled a number of young men who were patients at local general practices into one of Australia’s first clinical HIV research studies. The results, published in The Lancet, led to the first description anywhere in the world of the so-called “seroconversion illness,” which defines initial HIV infection in many people.

Without the swift response of David and his dear colleague Professor Ron Penny, together with the Sister’s determination and compassion in the face of profound community stigmatisation; the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Australia could have been far worse.”

Professor David Cooper   Born: Sydney Apr-19, 1949   Died following a short illness: Sydney Mar-18, 2018


12 Responses to “World-leading HIV researcher Professor David Cooper passes away”
  1. Wendy Howard says:

    I am so sad to hear of David’s passing. My deepest condolences to his family and colleagues at St Vincent’s.
    I was fortunate to have him as my doctor for the past 30 years, treating an autoimmune disease. The most brilliant people are often the most caring and humble and he will be sadly missed. Vale Professor Cooper.

  2. Nick Sanderson-Gough says:

    David looked after me for almost 30 years after he diagnosed me with Hodgkins Disease. His care and compassion, with his extraordinary knowledge and dedication, I owe him so much. My sincere condolences to his family and colleagues.

  3. Bill Parker says:

    I had the honour of being cared for by Professor Cooper for almost 20 years, he was not only a true professional, but had a wonderful compassion for the people in his care. Irrespective of the importance and complexity of his role, he always had words of encouragement and kindness when times were difficult. My deepest condolences to Professor Coopers. wife and family for your loss, he made a difference to so many lives.

    For 20 years I was in awe of the man I always addressed as Professor Cooper, tonight I say thank you David for your dedication and care.

    Truly a loss to the World

  4. Ian Bryant says:

    Thank you for the tribute – so much I didn’t know about David. As a former patient, I found him caring, dedicated, intellectual and always ready to try something unusual to come up with a solution to a problem. He was a true pioneer in HIV/AIDS research and treatment, although I think even then, back in the 1980s, we knew he was an outstanding leader.

  5. Lawrence Cryer says:

    David Cooper’s care and compassion was extraordinary. Thank you for all you did for me.

  6. Mark Reuben Loewenthal says:

    The loss of a wonderful man known for his kindness and compassion as well as his brillliance. A role model and mentor to all those who worked for him. More than just a very clever man, David was a true original thinker. Our heart goes out to his family.

    Mark Loewenthal, Director of Immunology and Infectious Diseases John Hunter Hospital, senior project scientist, NCHECR (now Kirby Institute) 1991.

  7. Stephanie Perrott says:

    In such a well written article about a magnificent man why do you have to repeatedly say “he passed away” ? Why can’t you say ” he died ” ?

  8. Liz Crock says:

    Thanks for this tribute. A very great loss to the world and to the HIV community.

  9. Michael Barnett says:

    Thank you for this coverage.

    There need to be more conversations in the Jewish community about HIV/AIDS. It’s mostly ignored, to everyone’s detriment.

  10. Philip Pogson says:

    Thank you for this tribute to a remarkable man.

    Professor Kirby was at UNSW, not at Sydney University though. At the moment the article reads:

    “Director of the Kirby Institute at Sydney University”

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