SVI Annual Report

Posted: 02nd September 2016

Successful research requires big, bold ideas.

But more often than not it progresses slowly; with small, unsure steps, turning back and reinventing itself along the way. Our Deputy Director, Michael Parker, likens progress in medical research to a game of snakes and ladders. If things go well, you rapidly ascend a ladder that takes you closer to the answer, but more often than you would like you will find yourself circling back towards the beginning.

One key to success in medical research is to surround yourself with people who think differently from you, a team with varied background, skills and experience. It is this ingredient – diversity – that is featured in this Report. Alongside the research highlights of the last year, you will read about Fei Fei Gong, a clinical cardiologist who is doing her PhD; Craig Morton, a postdoc who has worked both in academia and the biotechnology industry; and Bruce Kemp, whose years of academic research experience have recently been rewarded with the 2016 Leach Medal. You will also read about Niloufar Ansari, an Iranian pharmacist who is becoming expert in bone biology; Charlotte Hodson, a protein crystallographer from London; and Associate Professor Helen Thomas, who began her career studying the common fruit fly, but whose experience has more recently been instrumental to the success of the Australian Islet Transplantation Program.

Obtaining grants for research from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in the last year has remained very tough (about a one in eight success rate in 2015). However, the year saw us welcome the birth of the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), which passed the Senate
in August. We thank the Federal Government for their initiative and determination to see it become a reality. The MRFF will establish a capital fund of $20 billion with the income being spent on medical research. It will be several years before the MRFF distributes the full amount that is expected to double Federal funding for medical research. It is likely that the MRFF will reward diversity – researchers who are also endeavouring to seek funds from other sources such as clinical translation, industry engagement and philanthropy. The days of relying solely on government support are very much over and SVI will continue to seek funds from diverse sources to help us make discoveries that will improve the health of the community.

This challenge requires a new approach to how we work and the Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery (ACMD) is a great opportunity to do just this. The ACMD is a collaborative hub on the St Vincent’s campus centred on efficient use of scarce resources through sharing, and on formation of multidisciplinary project teams to tackle clinically important problems. There will be a strong focus on the input of clinicians and industry into these projects and on achieving clinically valuable outcomes. We hear a lot about the need for Australian research and industry to work closely together and the goal of the ACMD is to enable this interaction. We are especially grateful to the Victorian State Government for their financial commitment to the project and their interest in our work.

We would like to acknowledge the dedication of our Board members over the last year. Particular thanks goes to Mr Anthony Mancini, Mr Ben Fielding and Professor Stephen Smith, who have left the SVI Board in the last 12 months.

Read more in our 2015-2016 Annual Report.