HMRI celebrates 15 years

WHETHER it is fighting the battle of the bulge or helping Hunter residents breathe easier, for 15 years Hunter Medical Research Institute has been adding to the region’s medical understanding.

The institute this week  marked its 15th birthday by announcing plans that will take it to its 20th anniversary.

The institute was born out of dinner and a few drinks at Maitland Town Hall in August 1990 when the Hunter Medical Research Co-operative Ltd was launched as a Community Advancement society.

It grew into a formal institute that officially began in 1998 with one fund-raising manager, 89 researchers and $90,000 for grants.

Founders saw an opportunity to create a research hub linking the region’s major hospital, university and community.

A major goal was to attract government funding for research that would directly improve the health of Hunter residents.

Today the institute has 28 staff and more than 1100 active researchers employed through its partners the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health.

It handed out grants totalling $2.4million in 2011.

Darren Shafren, who was the institute’s first Young Researcher of the Year, has taken his work using the common cold to treat cancer to the private sector with huge success.

Hunter Medical Research Institute director Professor Michael Nilsson said the institute had become a leading national research centre and was recognised internationally for its stroke, asthma and cancer research.

‘‘We have some really top players; some internationally renowned people in our programs,’’ he said.

The institute’s board has approved a five-year strategy that includes more research that translates into practical health measures, professional fund-raising and facilitating the launch of private biotech companies.

They are establishing a world-class imaging centre at the back of their new multimillion-dollar building that will allow researchers to study biological processes at a cellular level.

There are also plans to establish a cancer and mental health research centre at Calvary Mater Hospital.

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