The future of medical research

By / 27th of June, 2014

WITH over 4000 participants involved across five days, the launch of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute’s (SAHMRI) scientific program wraps up today amidst a sense promise for the future of medical research in South Australia. 

SAHMRI Executive Director Professor Steve Wesselingh said the week has been well received.

“The feedback I’ve received says that it’s been terrific,” he said. “The combination of starting with community events – the tours of the building and Q&A session ‘Fat vs Sugar’ hosted by Tony Jones – and then moving to the specialty presentations worked very well.”

Along with his team of research theme leaders, Wesselingh took the unusual step of inviting top researchers largely based outside of his institute to provide keynote presentations and occupy science workshop panels.

“Each leader was asked to nominated a top researcher related to their theme. That way SAHMRI was sure to deliver the best possible speakers.”

It also served the important role of establishing a network of diverse, informed and influential supporters of SAHMRI across the world. 

One speaker was Eric Peterson, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Duke University Medical Center and Director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute in the USA.

Speaking to science launch attendees on the future of cardiovascular research, he described the rare opportunity that SAHMRI holds.

“Remember, we were here. We were here at the beginning of SAHMRI. This place is the future,” he said.  

Retired world-renowned nutrition specialist Professor Peter Aggett from the United Kingdom echoed these sentiments, saying, “We envy anybody who has the ability to pull something of this quality together.”

The field of genomics – whereby an individual person’s entire genetic sequence is determined – was a key topic debated at the launch.

Guest Professor Jun Wang, Director at the largest genomics facility in the world – BGI in China, which has institutions in the USA and Denmark, led the debate on the subject.

Professor Wang informed his keynote audience that around 10 years ago, sequencing an entire individual human genome cost $USD 100 million. Right now, it costs between $USD 5-10,000. By extrapolation, could this mean that in the next 10 years we can expect to pay only $USD1 for the same service.

“We are going to make it happen," he said.

Genomic sequencing has the capacity to revolutionise personalised medicine but also presents a number of challenges.

"Our desire to move evidence into clinical practice is important,” said SAHRMI Executive Director Professor Steve Wesselingh. “However we do need to have conversations just like those we’ve had at our launch in order to translate the research in safe, appropriate and ethical ways.”

South Australian IT consultant and business owner Geoff Vass attended the scientific launch as a member of the general public.

“Having seen a bit of the insides of SAHMRI and heard the principals speaking, I'm hugely impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment shown by all,” he said.

With the science program now officially in action, the challenge for SAHMRI is to deliver on these high expectations, and to determine how to grade its activities.

“Yes, funding, publications and awards do matter,” said Steve. “But our real success will come when we impact on and improve health policy and models of care, and deliver prevention measures that reduce the numbers of people presenting with certain illnesses.” 

“The proof will be in the pudding,” he said.

Keep up with SAHMRI’s activities through its website or on twitter  - @SAHMRI_Tweets.