Research collaboration key

30/01/2008 - 22:00

Almost 10 years have passed since the Western Australian Institute of Medical Research was founded with just a handful of staff and some foundation funding.

Almost 10 years have passed since the Western Australian Institute of Medical Research was founded with just a handful of staff and some foundation funding.


With its anniversary approaching, the now 220-strong organisation is entering a new phase, preparing to embark on a major fundraising campaign and planning its move to the Fiona Stanley Hospital site in Murdoch.


While the hospital is not due for completion until 2012, plans are currently under way to determine where the institute’s respective specialist teams will be housed, with the existing Royal Perth Hospital campus to be relocated.


While some of WAIMR’s staff will make the move to Murdoch, others will be in new facilities under construction near Sir Charles Gairdner hospital. 


Due for completion just before the Fiona Stanley Hospital, the new building at the QEII Medical Centre in Nedlands will be able to accommodate a vastly increased team.


Professor Peter Klinken, who has been a director of WAIMR since its inception, said the organisation was aiming to grow to between 500 and 1,000 staff members over the next few years.


“It depends on the size of the buildings we construct, the amount of money we have, the success of our fundraising efforts and the cost of labour,” Professor Klinken said.


“It’s a great opportunity, but it’s also a great challenge in this [economic] environment. We want to finish the development as quickly as possible.”


WAIMR received $100 million from the federal government in 2006 to build new facilities, and is looking to supplement this through further corporate and philanthropic support.


Professor Klinken, who was appointed as a director in 1998, along with co-director Peter Leedman, said the idea for a collaborative research institute originated in 1994, when the two medical scientists came to work together at Royal Perth Hospital.


“We firmly believed that this was so important for Western Australia and the state, to have a real focus for research into the genetic aspects of adult diseases,” he said.


“We also realised if you want to recruit good doctors, it is essential to have good research facilities.”


Professor Klinken said although the state government and the University of Western Australia were supportive of the concept, securing a corporate sponsor had been the catalyst to contributions from other corporates and philanthropists.


“The moment Wesfarmers came on board, through Michael Chaney and Harry Perkins, people were supportive. Other companies said ‘if Wesfarmers are doing it, WAIMR must have done their due diligence’.”


WAIMR has since developed a reputation for quality research, which puts it on a par with former Australian of the year, Professor Ian Frazer’s Diamantina Institute in Queensland, according to Professor Klinken.


With half of WAIMR’s top academics coming from interstate and the other half from overseas, its reputation has been crucial to recruiting a team.


“Every one of our key staff, at a professorial level, has come from outside Perth,” Professor Klinken said.


“My firm belief is that if you’ve got good facilities and an environment which is supportive, where people believe they can go somewhere with their career and not stall, then you can attract people easily.”


According to Professor Klinken, WAIMR’s big accomplishment to date had been to create collaboration between Royal Perth Hospital, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and UWA.


“Perth had previously been recognised for having a lot of good people, but not credited with having a critical mass,” he said.


About 80 per cent of WAIMR’s funding comes from the national competitive grant program, with additional funding from the state health department and UWA.


The institute also has extramural support from a number of centres, including the Neurotrauma Research Program and the National Research Centre for Asbestos-Related Diseases.



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