House debates

Thursday, 30 October 2014


Medical Research

10:46 am

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As members of this place know, investment in our health system and in particular in medical research to cure those diseases that are currently incurable is the centrepiece of this government's health policy platform and is a policy that I fully endorse. In the federal budget, this government developed a framework that will enable an unprecedented $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund to be established, which will build a better future for Australian medical researchers and for better health care. Yesterday I also welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Health, Peter Dutton, that there will be a review of independent medical research institutes. The aim of the review is to make recommendations for improving the viability and competitiveness of these institutes and to determine their ability to respond to the opportunities presented by the implementation of this future fund. As a member of parliament, I support ensuring that government-led research via the future fund and other funding measures is targeted towards those diseases that have been identified as being responsible for a high death rate in Australia and those diseases where investment in preventative strategies could help stop people from getting these diseases in the first instance.

I recently met with and toured facilities of one organisation that is developing vital research initiatives to help unlock the health challenges of every Australian, including cancer, diabetes, obesity and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The institute I visited was the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, which has one key goal: to develop genes and molecular and cellular processes to prevent, treat or cure some of Australia's major diseases. It is institutes such as this that will continue to pave the way in Australian medical research, and their initiatives should be supported by both the government and the medical community. The Garvan is home to 10 state-of-the-art genomic mapping machines that have the capacity to generate 20,000 comprehensive human profiles each year. It is the first research facility in the Asia-Pacific region and one of the first in the world with this technology—and again demonstrates the world-leading research being undertaken right here in Australia.

All members in this place either would know someone who has been impacted or would have been impacted personally by a serious disease, and share the desire we all have to better identify, treat and survive it. This is central to the health of our families and our nation. At the heart of the genomic mapping is identifying and understanding diseases that could be more effectively treated. Genome sequencing can diagnose existing diseases and offer an insight into a person's predisposition to other diseases, prompting a more effective monitoring and healthy lifestyle outcome. Currently genome sequencing is having its greatest impact in providing information about an individual's likely response to cancer treatment—particularly for pancreatic cancer, which claims over 2,500 lives per year. While I was at the Garvan Institute, I met with their CEO, Andrew Giles, and executive director, Professor John Mattick. They updated me on how their insights into genomic mapping are already helping to save lives and their potential for future research initiatives. Currently, genomic mapping is already being used to assist doctors to quickly and accurately diagnose the genetic causes of disabilities and to decide treatment strategies that have the potential to save patients from costly and complex procedures. This will not just improve outcomes but direct health expenditure to where it can be most effective.

In the longer term, genomic information is expected to dramatically change the testing and use of medicines through understanding diseases better and avoiding adverse drug reactions, which constitute 7.6 per cent of all hospital admissions in Australia. This will also lead to better patient outcomes and provide enormous savings to the health system and the economy. According to Professor Mattick, the research being undertaken at the institute will also allow health professionals to map genomes, possibly at birth, to help identify genetic conditions that currently impact about 1.4 million Australians and to identify risks for complex diseases that constitute the bulk of our health burden.

It is clear that the ability to conduct groundbreaking medical research that could potentially save thousands of lives is not limited to countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom. Researchers in Australia are working every day to lead the way in scientific and medical breakthroughs, and as a government we have a responsibility to support these initiatives. To achieve this, though, investment in medical research needs to be at the forefront of Australian health policy. I am pleased to be part of a government that not only recognises this but also acts upon it.