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Published: 10 February 2014

Professor David James Kemp OAM FAA

Alan Cowman and Suzanne Cory

Dave Kemp was an exceptional and highly respected scientist. An outstanding molecular biologist, Dave Kemp was noted for his technological innovation, which he used to address signal questions in both immunology and parasitology.

Dave Kemp committed to a research career during his PhD studies on keratin genes with George Rogers FAA, which he completed in 1973. After a period as a Research Scientist at CSIRO with Jim Peacock FAA in the Department of Plant Industry, he went to Stanford University on an Eleanor Roosevelt fellowship for a 2-year postdoctoral stint with renowned Drosophila geneticist Dave Hogness. During this period he acquired experience in recombinant DNA technology (then very new) and contributed to the development, with George Stark and Jim Alwine, of northern blots to detect RNA.

Returning to Australia in 1978, he joined the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne and carried out pioneering studies on the genetic basis of immunity with Jerry Adams and Suzanne Cory.

In 1979, David Kemp switched fields to parasitology, especially malaria. Together with Robin Anders, he developed a method for screening expression libraries with antibodies and used it to isolate Plasmodium falciparum genes, particularly those that might be candidates for vaccine development. This was a major breakthrough and led to the rapid development of the field. In 1984, he initiated innovative studies separating malaria chromosomes using pulse field gel electrophoresis and this provided the basis to understand the structure and arrangement of the genome for this human pathogen. He was appointed Head of WEHI’s Immunoparasitology Unit in 1990.

In 1992, he was appointed Deputy Director of the Menzies School of Health in Darwin, where he continued his world-leading research in malaria genetics and also embarked on new studies attempting to alleviate the impact of diseases such as scabies on our indigenous population. During that year he was also appointed as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Research Scholar. In 2000, he moved to the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane where he headed the Malaria and Arbovirus Unit.

Dave Kemp received many distinguished awards, including the Boehringer-Mannheim Medal of the Australian Biochemical Society (1981), the Wellcome Prize for diagnostics (1992), a Centenary Medal (2003) and a Medal in the Order of Australia in the General Division (OAM) (2008) and he was elected to the Australian Academy of Science in 1996.

In 2006, Dave and his wife Katherine (now deceased), a highly committed nurse, moved to tranquil Tallangatta, Victoria, where they were very happy. They are survived by sons Andrew, Ben and Daniel and grandchildren Rachael, Jessica and Ryan.

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