Positioned to shape the future

Mar 14 2018

Hunter Medical Research Institute celebrates its 20th anniversary today marking two decades of ground-breaking achievements.

Author: Kyle Loades, HMRI Chair

Kyle Loades

Sir Isaac Newton spoke of “standing on the shoulders of giants” to glimpse the future and today’s HMRI Board is focused on doing the same, now that our forebears have laid such a magnificent platform.

The state-of-the-art HMRI Building adjacent to John Hunter stands as testament to political persuasion, perseverance and concerted community engagement. From here we can afford to take a longer view forward, capitalising on all that has happened.

Our task, as current custodians, is to fortify and strategically position the Institute for the next 20 years. It’s no longer about bricks and mortar in the Building’s case, more the mortals working inside and on partner campuses. They’re the ones destined to deliver the next wave of research outcomes for patients and families.

In many ways, our collective futures rest in the hands of the community members that HMRI seeks to support. I believe that researchers over the next 20 years will become increasingly reliant on philanthropic donations as federal and state healthcare purse strings are tightened.

Many of us wouldn’t profess to understanding what goes on inside the labs and clinics, or exactly where our money goes, but we can appreciate that HMRI and its partners have the best possible researchers making ground-breaking discoveries.

This can be evidenced by non-parochial and peer-reviewed funding successes on the national stage. Economists call it the leveraging factor, where local donor seed-funding subsequently attracts substantially larger amounts.

There are no rivalries here – businesses from all fields of industry see the big picture and the social benefit of helping their clients, staff and the regional economy.

Recently there was the example of biotech firm Viralytics being subject to a $500 million acquisition bid by US pharmaceutical company Merck – it began with a $25,000 project grant from the Greater Building Society (now Bank) in HMRI’s own formative days. The University of Newcastle helped nurture that seed through to fruition.

Funding of $38,000 for a study in chronic back pain resulted in a federal government grant of $650,000, a leveraging ratio of 1:17. And, of course, Hunter people with bad backs were among the first to benefit.

In another example of industry support and endeavour, the Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation co-funded a revolutionary laser microscope for three young researchers. Built by hand, using plans and parts from the internet, it cost just $70,000 where commercial versions cost $1 million.

It has led the researchers to create and populate the world’s first ‘virtual’ biobank of tumour tissue. The microscope’s images are available at no cost, so there’s no commercial return in this case, but the benefits to humanity are priceless.

Where regionality has been one of HMRI’s unique qualities, our footprint will inevitably have to spread. I’m pleased to say that HMRI’s Sydney Foundation is doing some heavy lifting, raising $165,000 to help buy and trial two Strokefinder helmets for emergency diagnosis. The helmets are in John Hunter Hospital, being tested for future roll-out as we speak.

Moving forward, the equation is straightforward – the more funds we attract, the more government grants we can aim for, the more patients we can help.

I’d say the future for the Hunter is looking brighter and brighter. Our researcher affiliation numbers continue to grow and the HMRI Building is already nearing capacity. Sooner, rather than later, we will be venture back to the halls of power seeking funding for a much-needed second building.

Payback will come in the form of innovation, which goes hand-in-hand with economic growth and employment, improves our knowledge base and enhances the quality of life for everyone in the region.