Last updated on 14/07/2021

How one young female researcher in the 1980’s changed asthma and founded the Woolcock Institute

woolcock celebrates 40This year, we are excited to celebrate the 40-year anniversary of our friends at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research. Among Australia’s leaders in medical research for people with asthma, the institute has shaped much of what we know about asthma today. We’d like to take this opportunity to share our story with the Institute’s founding member Professor Ann Woolcock.

Professor Woolcock pioneered several new ideas in asthma including the role of allergy in asthma, the role of genes in asthma’s development and led the development of the early version of national treatment guidelines in asthma – apparently, at the time, this was a world first.

Her determination and bright intellect was a beacon in the field of medical research for asthma and her early work attracted funding from the Asthma Foundations (now Asthma Australia). With an Asthma Foundation research grant, Professor Woolcock completed her first post graduate research work, which blossomed into a successful and productive career in respiratory health and epidemiology.

Professor Woolcock became a close friend of Asthma Australia over the years. She was an asthma ambassador for the then Asthma Foundation and forged the strong relationship with the Woolcock Institute that we have today. Professor Woolcock died from cancer in 2001, aged 64, but her impressive legacy lives on in the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, which she founded in 1981. Her immense contributions to asthma in the field of research and extension into the medical fraternity has positively impacted thousands, if not millions of lives.

Through our research program and donations that we receive from our community, Asthma Australia has continued to fund research run by researchers associated with the Woolcock Institute.  These include:

  • The funding of another internationally eminent asthma researcher and clinician, Professor Helen Reddel, whose work focused on understanding the experiences of people with severe asthma,
  • Working with the Woolcock Institute on a Google grant to develop real time, localised, air quality assessment technology,
  • A research partnership with the Woolcock Institute, University of NSW, University of Sydney and the George Institute to understand cost and how it impacts decision making around preventer medicine prescription.

Professor Woolcock’s significant contribution to respiratory health has been remembered in The Search of Knowledge and Understanding, a new book which evaluates the work of some of the greatest scholars in the University of Sydney’s history. Written by Max Bennett, the publication devotes one chapter to Professor Woolcock’s work to better understand and treat asthma. The book can be purchased by visiting.

We are thrilled to help the Woolcock Institute celebrate 40-years of excellence in asthma research and to honour the work of Professor Ann Woolcock. Donations to Asthma Australia help us to support bright minds, like the then young Ann Woolcock, to focus on asthma and respiratory health.

For more information on the Woolcock Institute, please visit: