No shortage of goodwill in health

Medical research and treatment in Western Australia has received a major boost in the past month with the announcement of three separate donations to fight HIV, cancer and burns worth more than $16 million. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated $13.1 million to a local HIV research team; the WA Cancer Council has raised $500,000 for cancer research; and a joint initiative between the WA Government and Telstra to open the Burns Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Unit at Royal Peth Hospital was announced last month valued at $3 million. Scientists from the Centre for Clinical Immunology and Biomedical Statistics received the Gates Foundation donation and will use the funds to continue work in the search for a vaccine against the HIV virus. The centre, which is a collaborative venture between Murdoch University and Royal Perth Hospital, has been approaching the development of a HIV vaccine from a unique angle, working with the virus’s ability to tailor itself to an individual’s immune response. Centre executive director Simon Mallal said the money would go towards employing researchers, equipment and reagents. “We have licensed out an element of one of our patents to the Gates Foundation, providing a way of getting the public and private sectors worldwide to work together. That patent was instrumental in securing this funding,” Professor Mallal said. Cancer research will be advanced by nine grants of between $40,000 and $55,000 each. The focus of the Cancer Council’s funding will target mesothelioma, which is increasing in prevalence every year, with three research centres receiving a third of the funds. Cancer Council director of education and research Terry Slevin said that although a variety of fields of research were represented in the list of successful research projects this year, he was pleased to see mesothelioma receiving attention. “We anticipate seeing more of this insidious disease in the future. It is important that we continue to look for better ways to help those afflicted with this deadly cancer,” Mr Slevin said. University of WA Department of Cancer Research research officer Jenette Creaney said the support of Western Australians through the Cancer Council was greatly appreciated. “The funding that we get from the Cancer Council is testament to the generosity of the people in this state,” Dr Creany said. The UWA research will try to identify mesothelioma patients who respond well to chemotherapy in order to place them on new, novel treatments. Dr Creaney also said around 80 new cases of mesothelioma were diagnosed in WA every year, and that the prognosis for victims was not good. The Cancer Council also awarded grants for research into the therapy and screening of other cancers. Another funding recipient is the new Telstra Burns Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Unit at RPH. Telstra put one third of the funding into the centre, while the WA Government contributed the remaining $2 million. Telstra WA spokesman Andrew Gaspar said the $1 million donation was inspired by the outstanding work of Dr Fiona Wood and the RPH team in their response to the Bali disaster. “[Telstra CEO] Ziggy [Switkowski] contacted the office directly and suggested the donation,” he said. “As it turned out, there was a Telstra staff member affected by the bombing, but I don’t think Mr Switkowski was aware of that at the time,” Mr Gaspar said.

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