Investing in medical research


Professor Peter R Schofield, CEO, NeuRA

This year’s grant application round is over – drawing sighs of relief from our researchers who are paid through competitive grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and other agencies.

Writing a grant application is analogous to submitting a tender: researchers are competing to have the best ideas and most relevant projects supported. With only one in six project grants being funded, it’s a competition that sees only the most compelling applications supported. The process of tendering for a continuing research career is a tough road.

Government funding agencies don’t simply want to provide a pool of money to satisfying researchers’ curiosity; rather they ask broad strategic questions about the research. Will the proposal be of significance and address an unmet health need, is it innovative in its approach, is the research plan logical and feasible, and does the research team have the skills to successfully undertake the project? In this way, the community invests in the very best ideas, and the ones which are most likely to lead to future advances in medicine, health care and wider societal benefits.

Our grant applications must deliver compelling ideas leading to worthwhile, meaningful outcomes and, in this, we continue to be highly competitive. Two recent examples of grants that have commenced this year include a NHMRC Early Career Fellowship awarded to Dr Lara Harvey for her project to examine the causes, consequences and costs of injury-related hospitalisations for people with dementia. By combining NeuRA’s strengths in dementia research and in falls prevention this project will train research leaders of the future while addressing the problems of today. In the same way, a NHMRC Project Grant awarded to Dr Kim Delbaere and colleagues will evaluate a new home-based exercise program called Standing Tall, which uses mobile technology to prevent falls in older people.

Government funding is not comprehensive and doesn’t fund the conception or piloting of research ideas, yet such preliminary data is key to convincing review panels of the merit and feasibility of a research project. It is here that philanthropy provides its unique leveraging potential. One example is Kim Delbaere’s NHMRC grant success for the Standing Tall project. While proposing an innovative approach to an unresolved health problem, Kim’s project needed financial backing in its trial stages to provide sufficient evidence for NHMRC funding. Gandel Philanthropy made a ‘challenge’ award to meet half the funding required to develop this project, and over 100 NeuRA donors across Australia met the challenge, donating the remaining half.

Our thanks go to all these supporters who have seeded a great idea, and one that is now funded by the NHMRC over the next four years to demonstrate that the Standing Tall program can prevent falls in older Australians.

Philanthropy is key to the future of improved health and medical outcomes here at NeuRA as it can hasten the process of turning ideas into cures by helping researchers clear funding hurdles. For your generous support, we sincerely thank you.

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