Emeritus Professor Byron Kakulas AO MD Hon Athens, MD WA, FRACP, FRCPath, FRCPA

Founding Director

Emeritus Professor Byron A Kakulas AO, graduated in medicine from the University of Adelaide in 1956.

After residency training at Royal Perth Hospital he specialised in clinical neurology. Being interested in research he soon realised that a thorough knowledge of pathology was essential in order to break new ground thus gaining a second specialist qualification in pathology. In the interim he was confronted by a paralytic disease in a small marsupial the Rottnest Island Quokka which became the subject of his doctoral thesis. He found that the disorder was due to breakdown of muscle resulting from vitamin E deficiency thus discovering the hitherto unknown power of muscle to regenerate. This was a momentous breakthrough since it demonstrated the potential for all muscle diseases including muscular dystrophy to be curable. This had the effect of stimulating worldwide research in the field and these momentous discoveries led to a treatment for sufferers of Duchenne muscular dystrophy that received accelerated approval by the US FDA in September 2016 and trials are showing spectacular results.

Combining this experience with an extensive study of human skeletal muscle affected by disease processes, he defined the factors which govern the reaction of muscle when diseased. These principles of myopathology have become the standard teaching worldwide. Having chosen the nervous system and muscle as a challenging area he pursued further expertise in neuropathology at Harvard Medical School. In 1967 he founded the Muscular Dystrophy Association of WA and soon after the Australian Neuromuscular Research Institute becoming the Medical Director of both, posts he held until 2010. In 1971 he was appointed Professor of Neuropathology, UWA, Dean of Medicine in 1978 and an Emeritus Professor in 2006.

He has received many honours and awards including Officer of the Order of Australia, an Honorary Doctorate of the University of Athens, the Gaetano Conte Prize of the Naples Conte Academy and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the World Federation of Neurology. He is also a Paul Harris Fellow in Rotary.

His research contributions are very extensive covering a variety of fields especially childhood and adult muscle disease proving that paralysis in muscular dystrophy was the result of a continuous cycle of necrosis and regeneration. He was the first to identify Inclusion Body Myositis as an entity. In the early 1990s he introduced molecular genetics and DNA technology in the investigation of muscle diseases.

Other highlights have been the development of a model for polymyositis and the pathology of slow virus infections. The neuropathology of spinal cord injuries has been a major lifelong interest for which his pioneer work has gained much international acclaim setting the scientific basis for better treatments and an eventual cure.

Professor Kakulas continues his neuropathological research in the areas of restorative neurology of spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s disease and ALS (motor neurone disease).

Achievements