University of Melbourne Magazine

10,000 minds, one ambition

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    “It’s a very impressive facility, a very impressive precinct, compared to anything I know in the United Kingdom or even in the United States,” says the Dean of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Professor Stephen Smith. Having taken up his position only last September, he still brings the perspective of the outsider.

    Few neighbourhoods around the world can boast the basics of the critical trifecta: university, research institutions and hospitals. Fewer still have proven calibre attached to all of them.

    “Some things here are absolutely world-class – immunology is the obvious one.”

    Parkville paediatrics, microbiology, infectious diseases, inflammation and stroke expertise all resonate in the top sector of their respective international spheres.

    “But the precinct itself is less well known and needs to be shouted about a bit more,” says Smith. This isn’t merely a matter of institutional pride, he argues, but the driver of jobs, investment and better patient outcomes, the benefits resonating far beyond Parkville.

    Smith flips open a random recent copy of Nature, one of the handful of journals that define the currency of elite institutions and, inevitably, determine their attractiveness to investors, donors, specialist staff and patients.

    He points to a recent study on schizophrenia and flips to the list of authors’ affiliations – Harvard Medical School; the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Massachusetts General Hospital; the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK; the Karolinska Institute in Sweden; and the Centre for Human Genetics in Belgium.

    “That is modern science,” he declares. “You have to have the infrastructure to do that. And the collaborations.”

    It’s not just about having the intellectual grunt, the specialised teams and the expertise to run increasingly complex robotics and infomatics, but also – critically – access to the patient populations required for testing modern therapies, which target tightly defined, precise constituencies within the disease landscape.

    “What Australia hasn’t done is move fast enough to integrate its institutes, hospitals and universities. And that is what we can do here, and we’re moving as fast as we can to do that.”

    It matters “because, first, there are the jobs”, in the building phase and beyond. “We think there are about 10,000 scientists, clinician scientists, doctors, technicians, nurses etc in the biomed business in the Parkville Precinct. We should be thinking about how to grow that to 15,000.

    “Second, because unequivocally patients get better treatment.”

    Centres that have an academic bent deliver better health outcomes. “You get the very latest treatments coming into the system. You can’t just buy this in from elsewhere – you need the doctors at the forefront of the research.”

    The Precinct is, in Smith’s view, within shouting distance of the internationally recognised benchmark brands of Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, Yale and Harvard, which attract the hottest young post-docs from the highly mobile global pool and the biggest corporate investors and partners.

    “The point, of course, is the human capital. The buildings are part of the mechanism of getting the capital.

    “We have to make sure that Melbourne is seen by clinicians and scientists and health infomatics people and bioinformatics people as a place you would naturally consider stopping as part of the global journey of your career.”


    Undertaking her fourth year of medical studies, Jade Lim is already getting mileage out of the affiliations within the Parkville Precinct, diverting for a year from the MD (Doctor of Medicine) program into a Master of Public Health at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.

    Her passion has always been to work in public health or global health, “and so having the Nossal Institute and the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health is really enticing to me”. Next year, as part of her MD research work, she will go to Beijing to pursue research on breaking barriers to disability education.

    Lim and Carolina Radwan, also in her fourth year and now undertaking a six-month research project on stroke with the Melbourne Brain Centre at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, say they’re encouraged by the changes they see in the evolving precinct – most obviously the buildings, but also the avenues they open up. “You can literally see your options expanding across the street,” says Lim.

    Students Jade Lim and Carolina Radwan

    Students Jade Lim and Carolina Radwan believe the Precinct expands their options.

    Radwan had a previous stint in research after completing her undergraduate degree at Melbourne, and it was her engagement with RMH patients in this phase that convinced her that she wanted to pursue clinical medicine.

    “I used to think that all research was in a laboratory, with mice,” says Radwan. “But at the Royal Melbourne I got exposed to the world of clinical research, and seeing that translational research, the interplay, seeing the patients every day and the decision-making around them – it convinced me I wanted to be on the other side, engaging with patients.”

    Both women say they see plenty of scope to continue their involvement with some aspect of the Parkville precinct well beyond graduation. Because of the diversity of professional opportunities, they imagine many of their classmates will also stay in the neighbourhood, providing a rich network of relationships to nurture the precinct of the future.

    – Jo Chandler