While Australia 'punches above its weight' in medical research, our ability to translate these discoveries into better patient outcomes is lacking. The Integrated Clinical Research Facility aims to address this critical area of unmet need, vital to improving disease outcomes. This grant from The Ian Potter Foundation to St Vincent's Institute of Medical Research (SVI) in 2013 supported the purchase of equipment to allow the high-throughput sorting and identification of cells. As part of a larger program, the equipment facilitates the application of research findings through clinical and commercial pathways, specifically by enhancing capability to do research with human samples.
The Integrated Clinical Research Facility is located at St Vincent's Institute of Medical Research (SVI) in Melbourne. It is composed of three nodes: a Storage node (Biobank), an Isolation node for preparation of cells and tissues for cell-based therapy (a microisolator unit) and an Analysis node (cell sorter). The Facility is specifically aimed at increasing research capability at SVI in the use of human cells. The Facility has been fully funded with philanthropic contributions from the HMSTrust, the Marian and EH Flack Trust and in partnership with St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne and the Education Investment Fund.
The aims of the project were to:
• Encourage the reciprocal transfer of basic research and clinical expertise.
• Facilitate advances in type 1 diabetes, heart disease and blood disorders (specifically haematopoietic stem cell transplantation).
• Storage node: maximise, for patient benefit, the value of data and biospecimen repositories across the campus.
• Isolation node: facilitate research and translation of rapidly evolving cell therapies through clinical trials to the clinic, focusing on small throughput, research-oriented clinical translational studies.
• Analysis node: for research in areas including type 1 diabetes, cancers of the blood and bone and transplantation.
Researchers have been performing cutting-edge experiments using the Analysis Node of the Integrated Clinical Research Facility since 2013. A number of high profile studies have been published, including in the prestigious Journal of Clinical Investigation and in Science. A/Prof Carl Walkley's team showed that a protein, known as RECQL4, regulates the process of blood formation. When the gene is mutated in humans it results in a rare cancer syndrome known as Rothmund-Thomson Syndrome. These studies into RECQL4 will lead to a better understanding of its role in cancer and in the development of potential cancer therapies. Many other studies have been made possible with the facility, including research from SVI's Immunology and Diabetes Unit which uses human beta cells (the cells that make insulin). This research is making headway into understanding how and why beta cells are killed by immune cells in the development of type 1 diabetes.
The instruments in the Analysis Node have opened up a range of new research opportunities for SVI's researchers. This technology allows them to perform complicated experiments and obtain clearer results than was possible previously. In a broader sense, the user groups that sprung up around the development and establishment of the Facility have increased the communication between SVI's laboratory researchers and clinicians, allowing the sharing of knowledge and resources. For example, the Steering Committee involved in the development of the Storage Node of the Facility involves clinicians from St Vincent's Hospital's Cardiology and Gastroenterology Departments. These clinicians have been involved in regular meetings throughout the life of the project and have therefore developed a much closer working relationship with the Institute's researchers.
The final node of the Integrated Clinical Research Facility, the HMSTrust Biobank, was opened in 2015. Research at SVI into the causes of type 1 diabetes has used all three nodes of the Facility and has been recently featured in the media following an international collaboration between researchers in the U.S. and SVI's A/Prof Stuart Mannering. The researchers identified what may be the initial target of the immune response that causes type 1 diabetes. This type of ground-breaking research is made possible using the capabilities of the Integrated Clinical Research Facility.
SVI's Director Professor Tom Kay, commented, "At SVI we are committed to making a difference to the treatment of common diseases and through this, to the well-being of the community. Support from The Ian Potter Foundation has enabled significant advances in understanding diseases like leukaemia and type 1 diabetes."
Invited case study submitted by St Vincent's Medical Research Institute. Published 2/6/2016.
"This Integrated Clinical Research Facility is a platform that enhances collaboration between researchers from St Vincent's Institute of Medical Research and clinician-researchers within St Vincent's Hospital. This was regarded by the Governors as an interesting and creative approach to promoting substantially the clinical research enterprise on a major hospital campus. We are pleased that this initiative has already resulted in significant research advances in diabetes and blood disorders."
- Professor Graeme Ryan, Governor of The Ian Potter Foundation