Hunter Medical Research Institute looking at new John Hunter Hospital building

GROWTH: Hunter Medical Research Institute director Michael Nilsson says it is time to expand beyond this 2012 building. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

GROWTH: Hunter Medical Research Institute director Michael Nilsson says it is time to expand beyond this 2012 building. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

THE Hunter Medical Research Institute is planning a new building on the John Hunter Hospital campus, less than five years after its first, $90 million headquarters was built.

The existing HMRI building at John Hunter opened in September 2012, housing about 500 researchers from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health who had previously worked at scattered locations. At that time, HMRI’s then-newly arrived director, Professor Michael Nilsson, said the next goal was to build a cancer research institute behind the Calvary Mater Newcastle. Asked about it this week, Professor Nilsson said a Mater building had not been ruled out but the planning focus had shifted.

He said a combination of factors, including site complexities at the Mater, meant HMRI was now favouring a a second building at John Hunter, physically connected to one of the existing hospital wings. This would enable “translational” research that married basic science with public health.

“We want to capitalise more on our close location with the hospital, and increase the flow of clinicians and researchers into this building to enable this translation between scientists,” Professor Nilsson said.

Professor Nilsson cited the Australian Artificial Pancreas Program, which is based in Newcastle, as an ideal example of translational research, where engineers were working with doctors on mechanical design issues.

Professor Nilsson said the new building would be weighted towards non-laboratory research such as public health and epidemiology. This would allow an expansion of “wet labs” in the existing building once the other researchers moved. It was too early to define an actual site but it was likely to be on the same, northern, side of the hospital as the existing building, which would be more accessible once a second hospital entrance was built with the final section of the Newcastle Inner City Bypass.

Professor Nilsson said HMRI had received in-principle support from the university and the health service and was about to undertake a scoping study as part of a business case to secure funding.

Asked about competition with capital cities, Professor Nilsson said the Hunter had a “tremendous opportunity” to attract more research-based clinical medical trials because it had “one research institute, one university and one area health service”, together with a population that was interested in taking part in trials.

As an institute, HMRI aimed to attract international lead researchers while encouraging early- and mid-career researchers from the region.

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