ASMR President on 2013 Federal Budget

This year continues to be a challenging year for the Health & Medical Research sector. The Federal Budget, announced this week, has provided some reassurance, with funding into the NHMRC maintained, although in real terms this does represent a decrease in funding. At the Post Budget Briefing in Canberra on Thursday Minister Plibersek outlined the increased investment in funding for cancer research and cancer care included in the 2012-2013 Federal Health Budget. This funding will be directed towards prostate cancer research centres, the breast care nurses initiative in collaboration with the McGrath Foundation, Canteen youth cancer network, lung cancer, bowel cancer, cervical cancer screening, and regional cancer centres. In addition, funding will be dedicated to addressing the high rates of eye disease, rheumatic fever and HPV infection in indigenous Australians. Unfortunately Question and Answer time was cut short after just one question when the Ministers needed to leave the briefing to vote in Parliament.

In previous discussions with the Federal Health Minister, the Hon Tanya Plibersek, she has reiterated the Federal Government’s support for Health & Medical Research, and the vital role it plays in improving the health and well-being of all Australians, and while there have been no increases in investments, there has been a maintenance of funding. ASMR is continuing to advocate to both sides of Government for sustained investment in our sector, with investment in the NHMRC pegged to the Federal Health Budget. 

Funding for Health and Medical Research has not been completely untouched in recent times, however. The administrative change in the timing of NHMRC payments to institutions has been felt by many of the MRI’s, and in particular many of the smaller MRI’s. This change in the timing of NHMRC funding, and the subsequent financial impact on the affected institutions, comes at a time when we in the Health & Medical Research Sector are faced with a number of financial challenges.

In his response to the Federal Budget the Hon Tony Abbott noted that ‘Australia’s health researchers have saved hundreds of lives through breakthroughs in everything from infectious diseases to cancer vaccines to ulcer treatments.’ It is good to see Australia’s heath and medical research sector getting acknowledgement at the Federal level, and this being communicated to the Australian public. We, as sector, must continue to promote Australia’s world class researchers and research findings to Government and to the public at every opportunity.

The ASMR Directors continue to engage our Federal politicians about the importance of Health and Medical Research in Australia, and the need for further investment in our sector and a sustainable funding model. In addition to our political activities, it is important to also continue with our roles as advocates for Australia’s Health and Medical Research sector in the scientific and public arenas. Australia has numerous world class researchers across the breadth of health and medical research. Some recent work from Australian Health & Medical researchers include:

– Safety testing in humans of a drug that has been shown to reduce cancer growth in mice and may be a future treatment for skin cancer in humans (University of Sydney)
– Swimming increases lung function and fitness in children and adolescents without affecting severity or control of asthma (University of Tasmania)
– Understanding how a key protein (p53) protects against cancer (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute)
– Progress towards developing a bionic eye to help blind people to see (Monash Vision Group)
– Identification of processes underlying neuronal firing in the brain, and how dysfunction in this process may be linked with altered neuronal firing in patients with schizophrenia (University of Queensland and Garvan Institute of Medical Research)
– Up to 10% of the population suffers from learning disabilities, including dyslexia, dyscalculia and autism (University of Melbourne)
– Development of 3D technologies to ‘print’ custom made human body parts, with printing of muscle cells and nerve cells 3 years away and organs just over 10 years away (University of Wollongong and St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne)
– Eating dark chocolate increases feelings of calmness and contentedness, due to the polyphenols (Swinburne University of Technology)
– There is a greater risk of cardiovascular disease due to exposure of passive cigarette smoke in teenage girls than teenage boys (University of Western Australia)
– Poor maternal food choices during pregnancy and breast feeding may program poor eating habits via addiction to high fat and sugar levels in their children (University of Adelaide)
–   There may soon be a blood test developed to allow for the early detection of Alzheimer’s Disease (Researchers from the Australian Imaging and Biomarkers Lifestyle (AIBL) study of ageing – a collaboration of 5 Australian research institutions)

Dementia continues to be a focus for many researchers and clinicians in Australia, as well as the wider community. Much research is focussed on early detection and early interventions designed to slow down progression of neurodegenerative symptoms. It is predicted that by 2040 dementia will be the leading cause of disability in Australians, ahead of cardiovascular disease, cancer and depression (Access Economics: The Dementia Epidemic 2010). Reflecting the significance that dementia will likely to play in Australia’s future health arena, and the importance of research now into this debilitating disorder, dementia has now been listed as Australia’s 9th National Health Care Priority.

With ASMR Medical Research Week(R) rapidly approaching we once again have the opportunity to see some fantastic science from Australia’s up and coming researchers. I encourage all of you to attend the ASMR Scientific meetings in your state and support early career researchers as they present their latest research. This years ASMR Medalist, Prof Anna-Wirz-Justice, is an inspiring researcher and I am looking forward to hearing her presentations at the Gala Dinners. I look forward to meeting many of you during ASMR Medical Research Week(R) at the Gala Dinners and Canberra National Press Club Presentation.

Professor Naomi Rogers,
ASMR President

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