Tributes to Florey Institute founder and ‘great scientific mind’


22 Nov 2022

Tributes are flowing for Professor Derek Ashworth Denton AC, the founder of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and a globally famous scientist who did pioneering work on how the brain regulates thirst.

Professor Denton died peacefully at home last Friday at the age of 98, surrounded by family.

In a statement, the Florey Institute described Professor Denton one of the world’s greatest scientific minds, a revolutionary leader in medical research and a dedicated husband and father.

It said he was recognised as a global authority on the bodily regulation of salt and water at a time when there were fierce controversies on the role of excess salt intake as a cause of high blood pressure.

His research had a major influence on the cessation of added salt to foods. In one famous example, he persuaded Heinz in Australia to stop adding salt to baby food, the institute said.

Professor Denton. Source: The Florey

Born in 1924, the research physiologist was known for his work into the instinctive behaviour of the human body including the response to thirst and hunger, and how we control chemical balances through genetically programmed brain mechanisms.

“Through his numerous ground-breaking discoveries, many of which have saved countless lives through enhanced knowledge of how our bodies work, Professor Denton established himself as one of the most eminent Australian scientists of his time,” the statement said.

“Through his unique insights, he pioneered with his colleagues the real-time assessment of body chemistry balance post-operatively and in trauma cases. These techniques later evolved into the process now known as intensive care.”

Professor Denton was elected a Foreign Medical Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1974, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences in 1979, an Honorary Foreign Member at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in London in 1988, a Member of the National Academy of Science (USA) in 1995, a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1999 and of the French Academy of Sciences in 2003.

In 1960, he brought together major philanthropists to set up the Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine, and retained a role as emeritus director up until his death.

“Professor Denton’s unparalleled vision for what medical research should look like in Australia took enormous courage, dedication and insight,” the statement said.

“We are enormously proud and honoured to continue his legacy through the impactful work of The Florey to this day.”


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