Engaging Speaker at 2nd Council Meeting – Lambton

Speaker, Rebekah Wilson from the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), is part of a team which manages the relationship between researchers (or research groups) and donors. She proved to be a most engaging and interesting speaker. She has been involved in this type of work for 19 years, and obviously is quite passionate about it.

The Newcastle/ New England Health Service covers the largest area, by both population and area, in Australia, from the Hawkesbury to the Queensland border, and west to the South Australian border.

What began in 1998 as a bold vision to improve community wellbeing in the Hunter Region of NSW and stop the flow of Australian scientists to overseas, has today evolved into a world-class institute with 1500 medical researchers, students and support staff striving to prevent, treat and defeat a multitude of serious illnesses.

The building, behind the John Hunter Hospital, cost $100 million and was funded largely by the local community of the region and philanthropists. Its Board comprises one third representatives from the University, one third Health Service and one third from the community. Its role is to translate research into actual use.

Scientists from around the world,  including six Laureate Professors, come to work here, with their results shared. In partnership with the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Local Health District, HMRI’s clinical, biomedical and public health researchers work across multiple campuses and seven key translational research programs: Brain and Mental Health including Strokes, Dementia and Alzheimer's, all types of Cancer, Cardiovascular, Pregnancy and Reproduction, Public Health and Viruses, Infections/Immunity, Vaccines and Asthma (VIVA).

Rebekah also spoke of particular examples of research, including ‘Helen’, which aims to help people to walk again, as pathways from the limbs to the brain are activated; the development of the first vaccine for cancer, which came out of a discarded flu vaccine; a vaccine for asthma, which is one of the greatest killer of children and a Stroke finder helmet (not unlike a bike helmet) is carried in an ambulance or A& E. This 'helmet' starts the type of stroke diagnosis process if it is a 'bleed' or 'clot'. If it is a 'clot' an injection administered within 4.5 hours will alleviated significantly effects of a stroke. These are all now at the clinical trials phase.

HMRI researchers rely on philanthropic donations from the community, along with Australian Government funding, to support research projects, equipment, scholarships, fellowships and travel grants. Internal grant funding is allocated through a rigorous peer-review process and invested in areas of highest public need.

Volunteers are always needed, as well as donations of money, samples of healthy specimens and organs for research - there is no age limit. A number of research projects allow eligible people to access emerging medical research and treatments in a range of areas. Those involved also have the satisfaction of one helping someone else with an illness, providing important scientific information that will be used to develop new disease treatments and improve already existing ones.

by Marion Willey