Annual Report 1999
Report from the Menzies Centre for Population Health Research, Hobart
Prof Terry Dwyer, Director, Menzies Centre for Population Health Research
Professor Terry Dwyer,
Director, Menzies Centre for Population Health Research
1999 was an extremely successful year for the Menzies Centre in many ways. One of the important measures that we use for success is the number of competitive grants that are acquired. In 1999 five new National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grants from eight applications were awarded to the Centre. This is approximately three times the national average success rate. The total sum of new grants from NHMRC was $360,000, a very competitive achievement on the national scene.
The successful grants were in areas in which the Centre has been building a strong reputation, namely infant and child health and musculoskeletal research. In addition, grants were also acquired to research two new areas for the Centre, multiple sclerosis and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
The Heart Foundation has provided the Centre with a grant to study the association between cardiovascular disease risk and birth weight. A grant from the Clifford Craig Medical Research Foundation will fund a pilot study on childhood ocular conditions and a consultancy from the Department of Health and Human Services will fund a study into iodine deficiency in Tasmanian children. From outside Australia the Centre received a grant from the National Institutes of Health as part of an international collaborative grant on the genetics of melanoma.
During the year, the Menzies Centre also took important initiatives for future research growth. The appointment of Dr Michele Sale as Director of the Genetic Epidemiology Unit, followed by later appointments to key positions in that Unit, places the unit to make important contributions internationally to the field of genetic epidemiology. Already a number of projects are underway on diseases such as multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and glaucoma.
As well as the work being undertaken here in Australia, the Centre's activities in association with the World Health Organisation have been expanding. In conjunction with the Western Pacific Regional Office, Manila, a Profile of Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes in the Western Pacific has been published. This will be a very useful resource for people working in the 37 countries of the Western Pacific region. Researchers at the Centre have also taken on more extensive field work and education programs in Vietnam through the WHO Collaborating Centre for Cardiovascular Disease. It is hoped that in the coming years that this area will become better resourced to enable expansion of activities in this much needed area.
While the majority of the Centre's staff are located in Hobart there are a number who are working on projects through the North and the North West of the state. In recent years a number of staff have been appointed outside Tasmania. Dr Anne-Louise Ponsonby is in Canberra, and Dr Ruth Morley, from the United Kingdom, has taken a position at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne as part of the Menzies Centre team. Both these appointments have worked very well despite their distance from Hobart. The new communication technologies available have made it possible for them to work very effectively on grants and papers and this year both were successful with NHMRC grants through the Centre, as well as with other grants and activities that they undertook.
All of the Centre's scientific activities, while funded by grants from external sources are also underpinned by infrastructure funding that the Centre acquires through the donations from individuals within the Tasmanian community. This year has been an exceptional year for donations having surpassed $200,000 in general donations from the community for the first time. In addition the Centre has been fortunate enough to acquire two very large in memoriam gifts. The Arthur and Mary Paton Bequest has provided $285,000 to the Centre's research programs and $100,000 from an anonymous bequest has added to this.
Over twelve months ago the Centre was reviewed and one of the recommendations was that the Centre needed to develop greater depth in its scientific leadership. This goal has been pursued with the slightly increased resources that we have acquired principally through public donations. However, this process needs to continue. To achieve the critical mass needed to improve international positioning of the Centre in the coming years, further money from the public, the government and University will need to be attracted.
The increased level of success the Centre has been experiencing is based on a very strong contribution from the staff in the Centre, but has also been greatly augmented by the contributions of the Board members who, over the years, have become very committed to the Centre. These individuals devote a great deal of personal energy to the Centre's development.