A Short History of NeuRA’s Quest for Discovery
It all started around the kitchen table!
Four passionate scientists, Professors Ian McCloskey, Erica Potter, David Burke and Simon Gandevia, founded the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute back in 1991. For a few years, we had asked ourselves the right way to establish a new research centre where we could dedicate our efforts to medical research. It was the focus of some dinners around my kitchen table, planning how we would do it. This was really exciting. We all needed a place to conduct our research but there was just no space, focus or potential funds for a new centre in the plans of the Prince Henry and Prince of Wales Hospitals, the University of New South Wales or the federal and state governments.
There was already a strong friendship among the four of us, so we decided to progress our brain research focused on the brain’s control of movement and other major body processes. We decided that putting our hats in the ring for a competitive national grant for independent medical research institutes and negotiating an arrangement with the University of New South Wales and the Prince of Wales Hospital, would suit our purpose and provide us with the necessary independence.
This is how turning our dream into a reality began. We now had territory, independence, and the capacity to do long-term brain research. Many thought we were crazy, but we were determined to make it work.
The key thing I had learned and gained from mentors was that high-quality collaboration is essential in science. It generates better ideas, better experiments and better understanding of how things work. The four of us thought that the research undertaken in our small ‘tin-pot’ shed, a tiny independent medical research institute, would be greater than the sum of its parts. And I think we were right.
The initial years
We set up as a not-for-profit medical research institute, under a board, and made all the necessary components for beginning a new enterprise. It was a big deal moving our small research groups to what was essentially a non-existent institute.
Risk and rewards
I guess we all took a risk. We were all under pressure to do good science. If we didn’t then the whole venture would fail. But we set the place up for a critical reason: so we would be better together rather than as individuals.
And today we have fostered a strongly collaborative environment, with key research infrastructure including our magnetic resonance imaging facility, that encourages greater generation of shared new knowledge, shared values and better outcomes for discoveries and cures.
Vision for a different future
We also focused on making sure that the NSW government understood the importance of independent research and we were historically influential in setting up an infrastructure scheme that was fair and that supported all of the independent medical research institutes. It provided us with critical infrastructure funding on a competitive and transparent basis.
Timeline for NeuRA
Over the past 27 years, we’ve grown from an initial staff of 20 researchers to over 300 scientists, students and support staff. We have evolved, rebranding as Neuroscience Research Australia in 2010 and have built an impressive building named after our generous benefactor Mrs Margarete Ainsworth. We have international collaborations, breakthroughs in neuroscience research, and a strong vision of our purpose and potential.
I am most proud of the essence of who we are, and that has never changed. We are scientists passionate about our ability to discover new things along the path to understanding and hopefully one day curing, the most debilitating disorders of the brain and nervous system. We have kept the character of the place friendly, supportive and collegiate. We have travelled far, but there is still a journey ahead as we explore the realms of the brain and what it can do and what we can do to it.
Professor Simon Gandevia,
Deputy Director, NeuRA