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Last Updated: Monday, 26 December 2005, 11:30 GMT
School thrives under new director
By Martin Hamer
BBC News in Liverpool

Professor Janet Hemingway
Professor Janet Hemingway was appointed director four years ago
A Merseyside institution waging a worldwide war on life-threatening tropical diseases is on its way to fulfilling its global ambitions.

Director Janet Hemingway's aim when she took the helm at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine was to make it the best of its kind.

Four years later, Professor Hemingway feels that goal is closer than ever.

Her view has been reinforced by a recent triple cash boost, including backing from the world's richest man.

Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates donated 28m to the school as part of a 145m gift to malaria research worldwide.

The international postgraduate centre of excellence has also been promised awards of 18m to help build a new unit for research and 11m from the European Commission to generate new anti-malarial drugs.

We are not going to set off a malaria epidemic by having mosquitoes here
Professor Janet Hemingway

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant will mean about 200 new staff for the school - with a substantial proportion of those being based in Liverpool.

Professor Hemingway, 48, said staff at the school had already increased in numbers from 160 four years ago to 240 now - and that the plan was to increase it to 600 by 2012.

The construction of a new additional centre, next door to its existing laboratories and offices in Pembroke Place, starts in January.

"We are expanding at such a rate that our current building will no longer hold us," she said.

She said that four years ago, when she was appointed to the post, the institution was turning over 5m in annual research grant income; this year's projected estimate of about 14m is due to rise dramatically after the triple cash boost.

Mosquitoes being examined behind netting
The school houses thousands of mosquitoes and tsetse flies

"I think it's fair to say I was brought to rejuvenate the school - hopefully that has been done - and set some strategic direction for it," she said.

"We have kept the mission statement exactly as it was, which is to make sure that we improve health in the tropics and everything we do is directed towards that.

"But we are also trying to make sure that the academic discoveries that we make really do get translated across into improvements in the way that we do actually treat and control tropical diseases."

Liverpool city centre is surely an unlikely setting for the school which houses hundreds of snakes, some highly poisonous, and thousands of mosquitoes.

However, Professor Hemingway said: "It's a sensible place to put it, if you think about it.

About the school
The school was set up in 1898 by ship owner Sir Alfred Lewis Jones to investigate diseases affecting his employees
It was the world's first institution devoted primarily to tropical health
It is a registered charity affiliated to the University of Liverpool
The school houses more than 200 snakes, many of which are highly dangerous
It is one of the few institutions worldwide housing tsetse flies

"If you were to put the mosquitoes and tsetse flies in the middle of Africa, you could set off an epidemic from the mosquitoes that you had imported.

"If we let mosquitoes out of the door here, they would be dead within half-an-hour because of the wretched climate.

"The security issue in terms of anything transmitting here is extraordinarily unlikely. It's possible but we are not going to set off a malaria epidemic by having mosquitoes here."

The outlook for the institution is very bright, according to Professor Hemingway.

"We set ourselves a goal four years ago that we would become the premier school of tropical medicine in the world and that's what we are aiming for," she said.

"We were already fairly high up the list and I think we have climbed it fairly substantially over the last few years. The future is certainly looking very rosy."

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