Professor John Hopper AM

2015 Victoria Prize for Science & Innovation

Professor John Hopper has made seminal contributions to understanding the roles of genetic and environmental factors on Australia’s major cancers and other diseases with significant clinical and population health benefits. These advances were underpinned by his mathematical and statistical innovations alongside his establishment more than 20 years ago of Australian cancer family studies that bring an epidemiological (population-wide) approach to finding ways to prevent disease and improve health.
Professor Hopper has also been Director of the Australian Twin Registry, created by Professor John Mathews, since 1990. He helped make it the world’s largest volunteer resource of twins and their families contributing to health and medical research by facilitating more than 500 publications across a wide range of diseases and health-related conditions, many led or instigated by Professor Hopper. Today he leads the new NHMRC-funded Australian Centre of Excellence in Twin Research and has played a key role in establishing the International Network of Twin Registries.

In 1992, Professor Hopper showed that for diseases like breast and colorectal cancers there must be enormous variation in underlying genetic risk. For each disease, while a large proportion of the population is at minimal risk there is a very wide distribution of people at increased risk. This challenges conventional public health approaches and has enormous potential for improvements in health, in terms of more cost-effective prevention strategies and better use of the health budget.

The case-control-family design pioneered by Professor Hopper was virtually unknown when he and Professor Graham Giles obtained funding from the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation in 1992. With Professors Melissa Southey and Mark Jenkins, they are world leaders in demonstrating the power of the population-based cancer family studies for better health care and prevention. The resources they created are based on the data and blood samples donated by more than 100,000 Australians with the expectation that they be used for research of global significance. This has contributed to Victoria being a stand out contributor to international cancer research.