PM opens Westmead medical research centre

Monday, 20 October, 2014

PM opens Westmead medical research centre

The Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research (WMI) has been opened by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and NSW Premier Mike Baird, bringing together several centres of research which were previously spread across six locations on the Westmead hospital campus.

The $110 million medical research centre was majority funded by the Australian and NSW governments, with additional contributions from the Australian Cancer Research Foundation and other donors through the Westmead Medical Research Foundation. The nine-storey complex comprises 17,500 m2 of research laboratories, plus the following core high-technology facilities:

  • Genomics: DNA sequencing and genotyping, including the Sydney node of the Australian Genome Research Facility.
  • Flow Cytometry/Sorting: A $1 million facility for isolating and characterising target cells.
  • Cell Imaging: Fixed and live cell imaging using advanced light and electron microscopy.
  • Human Applications Laboratory: A contamination-free facility for research into cellular and genetic therapeutic products.
  • Biobanks: Human tissue banks to facilitate research into cancers, infections and immune diseases.

These facilities serve not only WMI but also scientists from the neighbouring institutes and hospitals on the Westmead health campus which, together with the University of Sydney, comprise the Westmead Research Hub. In particular, the institute retains strong links to Westmead Hospital.

The building brings together almost 400 clinicians, scientists, postgraduate students and support staff with the aim of accelerating research into Australia’s major health problems and translating its outcomes into new diagnostics, prognostics, preventions, therapies and cures. WMI Executive Director Professor Tony Cunningham says it has been carefully designed to facilitate collaboration between different medical research disciplines.

“The building encourages interaction and the exchange of knowledge and ideas between researchers who were previously physically isolated from one another,” said Professor Cunningham.

“This is enhancing collaborations across disciplines and I believe it will lead to some significant research advances.”

As part of the upgrade, the institute has established a new centre targeting Australia’s fastest-growing chronic health conditions: type 2 diabetes and obesity. The Centre for Diabetes and Obesity Research (CDOR) will complement existing research into type 1 diabetes by WMI’s Centre for Transplant and Renal Research (CTRR) and will be the facility’s 11th research centre.

Professor Cunningham noted that the WMI’s researchers are ideally positioned to aid the national fight against type 2 diabetes, stating that they “have the ability to translate discoveries into potential therapies for diabetes patients at Westmead Hospital next door”. Such a discovery is currently being helmed by Professor Jenny Gunton, head of the CDOR and chair of Medicine at Westmead Hospital, whose team are investigating ways to increase beige fat in diabetes patients.

Beige fat burns energy, rather than storing it, thus making hosts thinner. Professor Gunton said her study “may find ways to burn calories and increase fitness” and will “progress to a clinical trial of people with type 2 diabetes who are overweight or obese, hopefully late this year at Westmead Hospital”.

Other illnesses investigated at the facility include infectious and immune diseases; cancer and leukaemia; liver and metabolic diseases; eye- and brain-related disorders; and heart and respiratory diseases. Professor Cunningham said the number one goal of all research at the facility is to make discoveries that can one day be used to help patients.

 “WMI has a long and successful history of turning medical discoveries into improved health for Australians, and the new building is all about taking what we discover on the lab bench and translating it to the bedside,” he said.

Image caption: Professors Philip O’Connell, Jenny Gunton and Tony Cunningham at the official WMI opening.

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