Professor Robert Elliott, CNZM
Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit
Sir Robert Elliott, who prefers to go by Bob, says imagination is the key to having a successful career in medical research.  He should know, having spent about sixty years of his life dedicated to trying to better the quality of life for people - especially children.  Bob is a long-standing member of the Rotary Club of Remuera.
In 1971, Bob co-founded the Child Health Research Foundation, now known as Cure Kids.  The foundation struggled during the 1990s and Bob thought it might have tipped over.  However, he made a valuable discovery.  He found that milk from different sorts of cows had effects on human health but, at the time, Bob wasn't all that bothered by it.  In an interview with the NZ Herald Bob said, "I didn't think much of it at the time and took a patent out that caught the eye of commerce and thus was born the A2 Milk Corporation.  The corporation was prepared to pay handsomely for that patent and Cure Kids took off from there - it brought in a small fortune."
Looking back on his career, it was Cure Kids which pleased him as it would continue to fund top-grade research for children's health long after he was ‘pushing up daisies’.  His career might not have been possible without his older sister though, who taught him the importance of using imagination which he thought was ‘extremely important’.  "You have to imagine how a problem could be resolved and let your imagination go wild," Bob said.  "People need to think as widely as they can and not be restricted by can't attitudes.  If you've got a good imagination, you'll come up with solutions for all sorts of things."  While he had failed hundreds of times, there were half a dozen or so successes which were adopted internationally for the treatment of children with diseases of which Bob is immensely proud.
Being made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to medical research was a great way to tip off the twilight of his career, he said.  "I'm pretty chuffed really.  It's a really pleasing award for a very, very long research career - 60 years of research really," Bob said.  "I'm on the tail end of my career and it's a really pleasing full stop after such a long time."
Bob was previously awarded a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 1999 New Year’s Honours.
To recap the Rotary and Cure Kids shared history:
1971 - The Child Health Research Foundation (CHRF) was established by Rotary because of the foresight of Dr Brian Caughey and Professor Bob Elliott (still on the Scientific Advisory Committee) to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Rotary in New Zealand.  Chair in Child Health Research established in 1974.
1976 - The CHRF became a national charity supported by all Rotary clubs in NZ.
2001 - Rotary funding totals $3.2 million and the Child Health Research Foundation was renamed Cure Kids.
2009 - In recognition of the long partnership with Rotary, Cure Kids contributed $200,000 towards Rotary International's PolioPlus campaign to help achieve a polio-free world.
2014 - Cure Kids’ fourth professorial chair is established.  Focusing on child and adolescent mental health, the roots of this chair can be traced back to 1999 and the initiative of the Rotary Club of Downtown Auckland.
2015 - Nationwide Red Nose Day campaign to rejuvenate the links between Cure Kids and Rotary.  Fifty-eight clubs take part including Auckland East.
There is an incredible unmet need, kids are still dying and suffering from diseases they shouldn’t be, often exacerbated because of their social situation.  Cure Kids is focussed on research.  For instance, it is now possible to take a small section of skin from a child and grow it in a laboratory, full thickness, to repair burns scars and this skin will grow as the child grows.  There has been a generation of breakthroughs.  For example, a child born with cystic fibrosis in 1960 had a life expectancy of seven years.  Now, thanks to research, the life expectancy in 2016 is more than thirty-seven years.
Apart from Rotary, Cure Kids is very well supported by Accor Hotels (stay with them), Briscoes (do all your Christmas shopping there) and Mondiale (freight and shipping).
The tenets for Cure Kids are:
  • Everything we do will contribute to our vision for a healthy childhood for everyone.
  • We prioritise research as the driving force for Cure Kids.
  • We focus on financial prioritisation and transparency – sometimes making tough decisions.
  • We will be the ‘go to’ voice for child health.
  • Build and nurture a strong and cohesive team to ensure we achieve our vision.
Cure Kids is the biggest funder of child health research outside of the government and their research into cot death has saved thousands of lives.  In 2016, by keeping expenses down, they finished with $500,000 to spare and were able to use this money to fund an additional five research projects.