Alexander (Alick) Lascelles

By Helen WolffAugust 9th, 2023

Professor Lascelles was an immunologist and physiologist best known for his work on immunity to mastitis. He contributed to scientific knowledge on the origin, characteristics and mechanisms of transfer of antibody in mammary glands, as well as the transfer of immunoglobulins into colostrum.

Early life

Alexander “Alick” Kirk Lascelles was born in Balgowlah, New South Wales, and attended North Sydney Boys’ High School.

Tertiary education and early career

Alick Lascelles graduated with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc) in 1952 and a Master of Veterinary Science (MVSc) in 1959 from the University of Sydney.

Lascelles went on to do research work with the veterinarian and biometrician Peter Claringbold, and Cliff Emmens in the Veterinary Physiology Department at Sydney, a department then dominated by Professor Rex Gunn.

After lecturing for several years at Sydney University, he was made a Research Fellow at the Australian National University in 1959.

He completed his PhD in 1962 under Professor Bede Morris, Australia’s first professor of immunology, at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU. His thesis title, Studies on mammary gland lymph in relation to the secretion and resolution of milk.

He returned to Sydney University in 1962 as a Senior Research Fellow with the Dairy Research Unit of the Department of Animal Husbandry. After a brief period as Acting Director of the Unit was appointed Professor of Dairying in 1964.

Over the next decade he oversaw an impressive number of postgraduate students, three of whom went on to professorships themselves. While it had initially been relatively easy to place successful postgraduates in good positions, in the early 1970s the job market began to tighten and Lascelles sought new challenges outside academia. When the position of Chief of Animal Health at CSIRO was advertised in 1972, he successfully applied for the job.

Time at CSIRO

Lascelles was appointed Chief of the Division of Animal Health in late 1973 and held the position for almost nine years. He oversaw both an extensive rationalisation of the Division and the completion of the highly controversial Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) at Geelong.

Lascelles was a very different character to his predecessors. He was the first Chief of the Division to come directly from an academic background.

His first impressions of the culture of CSIRO are important when assessing his role in guiding the Division of Animal Health through what was to prove a particularly stormy period in its history. At the University he had been used to working with tight budgets and organising research within short time frames; at CSIRO he saw what sometimes seemed like extravagant use of financial resources and a rather complacent attitude to the length of time it took to complete research projects.

Lascelles initially found it difficult to gain and maintain a handle on the diversity of work done throughout the Division. One of his first decisions was to institute a review of all these activities, and it was on the basis of this that a rationalisation program was undertaken.

Research under Lascelles

One of the areas that Lascelles did much to push was poultry research. Other scientific sections that prospered during the Lascelles period include immunology and molecular biology, while programs such as bovine infertility, blue tongue and enzootic pneumonia of pigs continued to make progress, and research on Johne’s disease in sheep began again. At the time Lascelles’ period as Chief ended in 1981, AHRL was still managing to maintain a high degree of world-class research.

Planned introduction of live foot-and-mouth-disease virus

In 1982, Lascelles publicly questioned the Government’s decision to import live foot-and-mouth-disease virus for use in the new Australian National Animal Health Laboratory. He urged that any decision to import the virus be deferred for several years.

“It is likely that the need to import live foot-and-mouth-disease virus in advance of an outbreak will actually diminish with time,” he said in a letter published in AVA News, a publication of the Australian Veterinary Association. The letter was also signed by Dr Bill Southcott, a deputy chief of the division, and Professor Douglas Blood, of the department of veterinary medicine at the University of Melbourne.

Officially, the CSIRO and the Bureau of Animal Health argued that the live virus was necessary if the laboratory was to be effective in diagnosing and controlling any outbreak of the disease. But many scientists (and most of the livestock industry) thought that in the absence of any major benefits, the risk of the virus escaping from the laboratory, however slight, was unacceptable because of the disastrous cost of any outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Dr A. K. Lascelles relinquished his post as Chief of the Division of Animal Health on 31 December 1982. He returned to full-time research duties at the Division’s McMaster Laboratory in Sydney. Dr Alan Donald was appointed Acting Chief of the Division on 1 January 1983.

Lascelles retired from CSIRO in 1989.

Honours and awards


1962 Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from John Curtin School of Medical Research at ANU.
Fellow of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists


Butcher, Barry W & CSIRO. Animal Health Research Laboratory (2000). Of vets, viruses and vaccines : the story of the Animal Health Research Laboratory, Parkville. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne

Further reading