Steady hands at work

LEADING FIGURES: From left to right, current HRMI director Michael Nilsson, who will vacate the post at the end of 2018, Emeritus Professor Maree Gleeson, and Emeritus Professor John Rostas
LEADING FIGURES: From left to right, current HRMI director Michael Nilsson, who will vacate the post at the end of 2018, Emeritus Professor Maree Gleeson, and Emeritus Professor John Rostas

 Current and past HMRI directors Michael Nilsson, Maree Gleeson and John Rostas give some perspectives on the last 20 years.  

Professor Michael Nilsson

HMRI Director (2011-2018)

When I arrived from Sweden in 2011, I found a medical research institute deeply ingrained in its surrounding community, abounding with research talent and also on a steep internationalisation trajectory.

The tripartite relationship that existed between the University, Health service and community was an impressive example of the Hunter’s collaborative spirit, with each offering unique strengths to empower the others. Rarely had I seen this level of cooperation in metropolitan capitals, and it remains one of HMRI’s distinct advantages.

There were 1100 researchers seven years ago, working across seven program areas. Today, as we celebrate our 20th anniversary, there are more than 1600 focused on the disease areas having greatest impact on community health.

HMRI is a leader in translational research, helping to accelerate innovations from initial idea stage into clinical treatments or policy. We’re in the “people business”, so it’s about fostering models of care that are more effective and cost-efficient.

To ensure the latter, HMRI employs its own health economists who’ve developed pioneering evaluation models to inform healthcare providers and policymakers in their purchasing decisions. The team also comprises statisticians to ensure research project robustness.

At any given time, clinical trials valued at over $100 million are giving patients access to the latest therapies. Hunter New England Health and the University of Newcastle attract top medical specialists and grab the attention of other institutes and industries from around the world. Researcher numbers, donor contributions, grant funding and media footprint have all continued to blossom.

In 2017, the Federal Government acknowledged this level of excellence by appointing the NSW Regional Health Partners Alliance, which includes HMRI, as one of Australia’s first Centres for Innovation in Regional Health (CIRH).

Other members are Hunter New England, Central Coast and Mid-North Coast health districts, the Universities of Newcastle and New England, Primary Health Network and Calvary Mater Newcastle.

It positions the CIRH to implement translational research for the benefit of rural and regional communities. As part of this, we are currently refining the concept of out-of-hospital care and rehabilitation delivery.

It's a triumph of community teamwork and support, for which we should all be proud.

Emeritus Professor Maree Gleeson OAM

HMRI Director (2006- 2011)

My lasting memory of my time as Director of HMRI is one of collaborations.

I was able to build on the foundations laid by Professor John Rostas and oversee HMRI during a remarkable growth phase.

The significant outcomes from that period are the things that have endured and become nationally and internationally recognised.

The most obvious was the privilege to secure the funding and oversee the design and construction of the HMRI Building.

It was a testament to many people’s endeavours to ensure we had a modern resource to house the ever expanding research community across the university and health system.

The lasting legacy has been that this allowed HMRI to attract NSW government infrastructure funding to support the continued growth in research capacity.

During my directorship the research population affiliated with HMRI grew from 400 to just over 1100 researchers.

The most important legacy for me has not been the building, the growth in research funding or researchers, but the quality of the research and the impact it is having on improved healthcare locally, nationally and globally.

It is the people that are important and the collaborations across the partners, including the community.

One of the important legacies for me was to mentor a small group of mid-career researchers who I identified as likely to become the future research leaders.

They were known as the INSIGHT group and ten years later all ten have attained professorial appointments and are leading large research teams addressing important clinical problems.

Another important legacy was the establishment of an innovative health research economics unit that is now leading the national developments for assessing the impacts of research on clinical, social and economic outcomes.

HMRI has provided a platform for innovations and they now come from across the spectrum of health and medical research.

Emeritus Professor John Rostas

Director of HMRI (1999-2006)

The establishment of HMRI as a partnership between the University, the Health Service and the community, governing a multicampus institute containing researchers employed by different organisations flew in the face of established traditions. 

Though many predicted that this new structure would fail, the opposite happened. HMRI’s growth and success led to its organisational principles being recognised by government as a desirable alternative structure for an independent medical research institute and adopted by other institutions throughout Australia.

A key innovation within HMRI was bringing together a critical mass of researchers, many of whom had never collaborated with each other before, to create broad, multidisciplinary research programs with a common research focus.  

HMRI’s new organisational structure promoted collaboration which, in turn, raised research participation within the health service and enabled university researchers to address important clinical and community health needs. 

It also provided opportunity for strategic planning of medical and health research at a regional level so that HMRI policies could shape research policies and resource allocation within the University and the Health Service.

Despite the commitment and vision by the University and the Health Service, the establishment of HMRI would not have succeeded without strong support from the community.