Tributes for top respiratory researcher A/Prof Euan Tovey


By Geir O'Rourke

9 Jul 2024

Former colleagues, collaborators and friends have paid tribute to Associate Professor Euan Tovey, a leading expert in asthma and allergy, particularly those related to house dust mites.

The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research said he died on 28 June, having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year. Aged 75, he is survived by his wife, Libby Gleeson AM, three daughters, and four grandchildren.

A/Prof Tovey was a research leader at the Woolcock from the late 1980s through to his retirement in 2015, an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, and was inducted into the Asthma NSW Hall of Fame.

Remembered as an iconoclastic and original thinker, he was a dedicated allergy researcher, becoming a global expert in the house dust mite, with a keen interest in investigating and inventing asthma and allergy devices.

But he also had a remarkable ability to turn his ideas into real solutions to benefit patients, said friend and former Woolcock colleague Professor Guy Marks.

“Euan’s breadth of vision, his imagination and capacity for original thought, his ingenuity, his humility, and his generous and collaborative spirit earned him the respect of all who knew and worked with him,” Professor Marks said.

“He was guided by data and evidence rather than by conventional wisdom or dogma. Unlike many other original thinkers, Euan had the capacity to turn his ideas into actual devices and machines. He had an extraordinary ability to make things.

“He was a positive influence on all those around him: from his role as research leader at the Woolcock; on the Board of the Asthma Foundation of NSW; or in mentoring young, and not so young, investigators he encountered both in Sydney and around the world.

“He will be sadly missed by his many friends and colleagues.”

An obituary posted on the Woolcock website outlined Associate Professor Tovey’s career, commencing at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital before he travelled to the UK to work at the Clinical Research Centre, Northwick Park.

After returning to Australia, he completed his PhD at the Kolling Institute before joining the Central Clinical School at the University of Sydney to work with Ann Woolcock. He was at the heart of the Institute of Respiratory Medicine, which later became the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, it said.

“Associate Professor Tovey was one of the leading authorities in the world on allergen avoidance. His research was key to understanding how humans are exposed to allergens derived from house dust mites and was integral to efforts to mitigate and prevent asthma by reducing exposure to house dust mites in beds and in the home.”

“His interests also expanded to include designing housing for better health and measuring airborne hazards such as fungi and viruses. He became the ‘go to’ person on measuring and characterising inhaled particles and in the past few years contributed important work on mechanisms of aerosol spread of respiratory viruses, including the virus that causes COVID-19.”

Woolcock sleep and circadian research group head Professor Ron Grunstein described his former colleague as a “great and modest scientist”.

“He was a great lateral thinker interested in developing devices for managing allergic diseases like asthma and allergic rhinitis. No allergen was safe from him,” he wrote on LinkedIn.

“I think he loved dust – one of my colleagues reflected she had never seen someone so excited by a growing dust storm moving across Sydney and its opportunity to measure particulate matter. His seminal work on house dust mites and asthma was well known with papers in Nature and Lancet.”

“He always asked questions that made you think, even about fields he didn’t research – sleep disorders especially, much to my brain’s discomfort.”

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