Professor Joseph Sambrook transformed research at Peter Mac and set us on course to becoming a cancer centre of international standing. He was a renowned molecular biologist when he joined Peter Mac in 1994, and then became a pivotal figure in our history.

In six years as Research Director, Prof Sambrook grew Peter Mac’s scientific staff from around 75 to 200 and he founded groundbreaking programs in cancer genetics and molecular pathology.

These include the Kathleen Cunningham Consortium for research into familial breast cancer (KconFab), which continues to drive this research for improved clinical outcomes. Today it supplies biological specimens and data to more than 190 studies worldwide.

Prof Sambrook’s stated policy on how to run a successful consortium, which proved to be true, was to:

“Meet frequently … minimise bureaucracy, no committees, communicate, communicate, communicate, persevere, develop friendships, share the responsibilities and credit, abandon major territorial claims … be generous with authorship and intellectual property and use democratic principles sparingly.”

He delivered on all of the above in abundance with integrity and good humour. Peter Mac’s senior researchers also remember Prof Sambrook as an important mentor, and scientific hero, who laid the foundations for our current research activities and success.

Generous with his time, Prof Sambrook was always available to help plan experiments, discuss research results and edit grants. He would give intense thought to a researcher’s work and provide valuable updates and encouragement to keep going.

Selfless in not wanting personal recognition or publicity, Prof Sambrook took great pride in seeing those he mentored achieving international recognition. This was reward enough for him.

He also had a wicked sense of humour, and a twinkle in his eye as he loved to surprise. Those that worked with him feel very privileged to have been part of his exceptional life.

Prof Sambrook’s research, starting in the mid-1960s and focussed on cancer-causing viruses and the genome, was a forerunner to the generation of cancer treatments now emerging.

Also notable within an extensive scientific career, Prof Sambrook’s book Molecular Cloning has served as an essential lab guide for almost 40 years.

Among many awards, Prof Sambrook was Peter Mac’s first scientist elected as Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a Peter Mac Distinguished Fellow.

Each year Peter Mac awards the Joseph F. Sambrook Prize for Research Excellence to recognise the most important discovery by our researchers.

Prof Sambrook’s health declined over some years and, in recent days, he passed away gently at his home surrounded by family. He was aged 80.

Prof Sambrook is survived by wife Professor Mary-Jane Gething and four children. Peter Mac extends its deepest condolences to the Sambrook family.