$10 million bequest to tackle rare autoimmune disease

31 July 2019

Great breakthroughs are founded in great research. And great research is boosted by generous donations like this | Professor Brian Schmidt, ANU Vice-Chancellor

Treatment for a rare and currently incurable autoimmune disease has been given a major boost thanks to a $10 million bequest made to The Australian National University (ANU). 
 
The $10 million comes from Jenny and Bruce Pryor, who both passed away in 2017, and is the largest bequest the University has ever received.  
 
The money will establish the Jenny and Bruce Pryor Research Fellowship at the ANU Centre for Personalised Immunology and be used to research dermatomyositis - which Jenny suffered from in her later years.
 
Dermatomyositis, or DM, is a rare autoimmune disease that causes chronic muscle inflammation, pain and weakness.
 
Co-director of the ANU Centre for Personalised Immunology Professor Carola Vinuesa said the funding would unlock vital work that "will give sufferers new hope for a cure". 
 
"DM is a rare disease that affects about one in 100,000 people and therefore not a prominent part of current large research programs," Professor Vinuesa said. 
 
"This bequest changes everything. It will enable us to build the most comprehensive discovery program for DM in Australia and possibly the world.
 
"We hope the important work this bequest funds will help us understand the causes of DM and discover much needed therapies to improve the life of people with it, if not cure the disease entirely. 
 
"I want to thank Jenny and Bruce Pryor for being so generous and so visionary. We are humbled by their support and we will do everything we can to use their funding to make a difference to patients like Jenny and their families.
 
"This is not just a gift to ANU. This is a gift to the world." 
 
Professor Matthew Cook, co-director of the Centre said the severity of DM varies significantly between people. 
 
"It depends on the organs affected - whether that's the muscles, joints, lungs, oesophagus or the heart," he said.
 
"Muscle weakness can significantly affect physical abilities and quality of life. 
 
"And patients with DM often have other autoimmune diseases."
 
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt thanked both Jenny and Bruce and their family for empowering researchers to tackle complex autoimmune diseases and help sufferers. 
 
"This is an inspirational gift from Jenny and Bruce that will empower us to use research in the most profound way," Professor Schmidt said. 

"People who they have never met, and will never meet, will benefit from the Pryors' generosity and commitment to making a difference. 

"Great breakthroughs are founded in great research. And great research is boosted by generous donations like this. 
 
"We are all extremely humbled by their quiet generosity, and emboldened by their confidence in ANU to protect and deliver on their intentions for this gift."  
 
The Pryors first approached ANU with their intentions in April 2017. Their wishes have been stewarded by nephew, James Graham, and his partner Tanya. 
 
"Bruce and Jenny loved each other dearly. Everything they did in life was for each other. So it is fitting that this major bequest and the vital work it will fund will carry their names," Mr Graham said.

"They were both extremely humble and generous people. They were committed to contributing and building a community around them. They worked hard their whole lives living modestly, to generate an amazing legacy of which the bequest to ANU is a significant part.

"Jenny suffered from DM in her later years and was diagnosed quite late in life. While the disease took its toll, Jenny always remained stoic. She never showed the significant impact it was taking. 

"But both Jenny and Bruce wanted to make sure other people would not have to suffer like she had. They wanted to help empower researchers to find a cure for diseases like DM. Their incredible generosity and commitment means this hope is now possible. 

"I can think of no better place than The Australian National University to honour Bruce and Jenny's lives through world-leading research to which Bruce and Jenny's legacy will make a tangible difference."