Hunter bringing transparency to translation

Nov 6 2014

 researcher and patient

NINE years ago the New England Journal of Medicine published a seminal article on translational science headlined “Time for a New Vision”, prompting international researchers and policymakers to ponder, “What is translation?”

Many are still grappling with the definition because the word can mean different things to different people. For some, “translation” simply involves the development of new drugs and devices between the bench and bedside; others see it as being policy-based for holistic community benefit. Arguably, it is both and more.

Research can happen under a microscope or when real people follow a particular intervention. To be truly successful, though, research must embrace a fluid discussion back and forth between the community, clinicians and scientists.

Fortunately we live in the most demographically diverse but tight-knit health district in NSW, which is also home to an elite group of medical researchers from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health.

It has long been known here that optimal health care arises from team efforts. We’ve been functioning this way since John Hunter Hospital opened almost 25 years ago, and HMRI’s formation in 1998 further cemented the translational bridge between HNEH and the UoN.

Having gained a head start, the Hunter has been perfecting the formula ever since. We’re now working on “Translation 2.0”.

Under the care model of 2014, scientific researchers have direct linkages with clinical service delivery in hospitals while clinicians gain early access to research innovations. Community health needs drive the translational cycle and our outcomes benefit those who support it.

As both a clinician and a researcher myself, I know how vital it is that researchers remain inquisitive about what we can discover for the ultimate benefit of the patient. It’s the reason we exist.

Last night, HMRI hosted a public celebration of research translation – the 2014 HMRI Awards Night – where 50-plus new grants worth $900,000 were awarded and another $2.6 million worth were acknowledged after being allocated during the year.

That’s 3.5 million ways to inspire clinician-researcher-community collaborations, or more if the seed-funded projects can secure national funding – last month, local researchers obtained $17.8 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and, only yesterday [SUBS: NOV 5], the Australian Research Council awarded around $6 million in grant and fellowship support.

The prestigious HMRI Award for Research Excellence went to mental health leader Professor Brian Kelly, whose distinguished track record spans rural health, palliative care and psycho-oncology, substance use, social determinants of mental health and clinical ethics.

Based at the Calvary Mater and with strong clinical and research links, Professor Kelly has brought more than $12 million in funding to the region.

Perhaps more remarkable, though, is his sustained excellence in community engagement. Professor Kelly strives to make a tangible difference for people enduring chronic health and psychiatric conditions, for the terminally ill and their carers, and for entire rural communities.

Also announced last night was the inaugural HMRI Director’s Award for Mid-career Research, which went to neurologist Professor Mark Parsons. His pivotal research into acute stroke interventions is changing clinical practice around Australia and the world.

The award fills the gap between the annual senior and early-career honours, recognising those who are on a steep trajectory towards becoming the future leaders of research.

HMRI researchers are leading the world in CT scanning technology.

Professor Parsons currently heads a Phase-3 trial of a clot-busting drug known as Tenecteplase, securing almost $4 million from the NHMRC. These dollars will save thousands of lives and reduce the rigours of long-term rehabilitation.

Our PULSE-sponsored Award for Early Career Research went to Dr Chris Williams, an HMRI Postgraduate Research Fellow from Hunter New England Population Health.

Singleton-born and just 33, the former physiotherapist has rapidly developed an international research reputation in health promotion and musculoskeletal pain management.

This year Dr Williams published results from the largest randomised clinical trial of back pain management, revealing that paracetamol is no more effective than placebo for pain relief.

He is currently working with the Healthy Children’s Initiative, overseeing the delivery of an intervention to improve canteen policies in rural and remote primary schools.

Overall it has been another record-breaking year for HMRI and the quality of grant applications for our Awards Night was exceptional.

Our researchers are working at the highest level internationally with a strong focus on translation and collaboration, which is reflected in HMRI’s attainment of such generous philanthropic support from the community.