For almost 50 years, the Flinders precinct south of Adelaide has stood at the forefront of leading medical and health research in South Australia and continues to be one of the state’s most productive research and teaching areas.
While much of the state’s medical attention is fixated on North Terrace, the big contribution that Flinders makes – finding scientific solutions to clinical problems across a vast medical landscape, and across many disciplines – has a profound impact and significant international reach.
“The key to Flinders’ success is the collaborative spirit – it’s a leading research and teaching institution co-located with a tertiary hospital – the only physically combined facility of its type in Australia,” says Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor Ross McKinnon, Dean (Research) at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University.
“Our other primary strength is a capacity to address real-world problems in a way that can be rapidly introduced to the benefit the whole community.”
This drive to innovate through research and implementation has seen Flinders become the current home of recognised leaders across many specialised fields – including Professor Jamie Craig (ophthalmology), Professor Malcolm Battersby (mental health), Professor Derek Chew (cardiology), Professor Fran Baum (public health), and rising stars Professor Nick Spencer (neuroscience) and Dr Robyn Meech (clinical pharmacology).
These current achievements build on a formidable history of success. Since medicine was introduced at Flinders University in 1971, objectives quickly moved beyond traditional fields of medical teaching to also include areas of research and education that required improvement in South Australia – anaesthesia, diagnostic radiology, clinical pharmacology, primary care and community medicine and ophthalmology, led by Professor Douglas Costa.
This also resulted in Flinders establishing Australia’s first chairs in telemedicine (with Professor Malcolm MacKinnon, leading the integration of computers and information technology into health-care delivery), rehabilitation and palliative care.
The opening of Flinders Medical Centre in 1976 marked Australia’s first medical centre built to integrate clinical services, research and teaching, with Professor Gustav Fraenkel being a driving force that made medicine such a focus of excellence at Flinders.
Due to the high calibre of foundation staff, Flinders soon won renown as an outstanding medical research centre – winning plaudits especially for work in cancer research (leading to the establishment of the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer in 2012), biomedical engineering (established in 1993 under foundation Professor Andrew Dowling, and now driven by Professor Karen Reynolds), and multi-disciplinary focus on ageing (through the Flinders Centre for Ageing Studies, started in 1986 by Professor Gary Andrews).
Innovation continues, with many of the current research leaders across different medical disciplines being members of the Flinders Centre for Clinical Change and Health Care Research, providing crucial leadership roles, and steering change that will ensure the best health research outcomes are implemented in daily health practices, for the benefit of the entire community.
Top 10 health and medical research strengths at Flinders:
- Cancer and oncology are key areas of research activity, with almost 100 researchers at the Flinders Centre for Innovation and Cancer, Flinders Medical Centre Flinders University and other collaborative laboratories, focusing on curing cancer via a wide range of studies from pre-clinical to clinical trials, therapeutic, psycho-oncology and preventive diagnostics to manage cancers from bowel to head and neck, gynaecological and urology. The Flinders team has produced a range of international firsts, from Professor Graeme Young receiving a Eureka prize for developing a blood test for CRC (colorectal cancer), to a seminal study by Professor Chris Karapetis that has led to worldwide uptake of genetic testing of tumours to inform treatment options for advanced CRC. Professor Pam Sykes (an international leader in low-dose radiobiology), Emeritus Professor Alec Morley and their team have pioneered tests for haematological malignancies; Associate Professor Michael Michael has identified the world-first association of microRNA with solid tumours; Professor Bogda Koczwara has convened the first national conference for cancer Survivorship, and FMC has developed SCOOP and BOSS – two unique high-risk surveillance programs for gastrointestinal cancer.
- Heart and cardiovascular health has long been an area of specialised expertise at Flinders, with current advances in therapeutic options for cardiac patients being led by Professor Derek Chew – head of the Flinders Clinical Trial Centre and a leading voice in the effective translation of new coronary health research outcomes into practise. Professor Robyn Clark is also internationally recognised for her research into the most effective management of patients with heart failure and cardiovascular disease.
- Flinders created Australia’s first multi-disciplinary centre for neurosciences in 1977, and its researchers and clinicians continue to drive advances in neuroscience, from identifying Motor Neurone Disease biomarkers, to investigating how sleep, vision and stress affect the central nervous system. Flinders has 24 laboratories associated with the many different aspects of brain and neurological research, including several gut research projects through multi-disciplinary collaborations, with such researchers as Associate Professor Stuart Brierley and Professor Nick Spencer exploring this complex issue from several angles – including how the gut communicates neurological messages with the brain, and identifying pain sourced from the gut that has wide-reaching effects.
- Ophthalmology, eye and vision research led by Professor Jamie Craig and Professor Justine Smith is recognised internationally for furthering solutions against blinding eye disease, especially with genetic and virus research that affect eyes. The benefits of the department’s work are evident at Flinders Vision, the public optometry clinic that provides South Australians with a comprehensive array of leading imaging and diagnostic equipment that helps people with both acute and chronic eye problems.
- Mental health expertise is an emerging strength at Flinders, with Breakthrough Mental Health Research Foundation initiating new research projects vowing to “tackle mental health head-on” by exploring early intervention programs and new technologies as tools to provide best treatment options. Powerful new research outcomes include Professor Mike Kyrios proving the effectiveness of online therapy in treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder behaviours, with other Flinders psychology projects investigating eating disorders and teen resilience. This adds to the mix of research, teaching and clinical services being undertaken at the Flinders Human Behaviour and Health Research Unit, located at the Margaret Tobin Centre. Effective treatment for depression and anxiety, body image, gambling and other disorders are tackled by a multidisciplinary team at Flinders.
- Flinders earned renown as a world leader in bowel cancer research with Emeritus Professor Graeme Young’s breakthrough work that helped establish Australia’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program in 2004. The Gastroenterology and Hepatology department continues important developments under the direction of Professor Robert Fraser, to better understand gastrointestinal cancer, and improve chronic care pathways for liver disease. Innovative microbiome research by Matthew Flinders Research Fellow, Professor Geraint Rogers, is investigating how people living in aged care facilities can be best protected from dangerous microbial bacteria that cannot be treated by antibiotics.
- Professor Alison Kitson leads a team exploring the path ahead for public health, assessing the introduction of Artificial Intelligence and digital technologies in improving health efficiencies and reducing costs. Within this fast-changing environment of health delivery, Flinders’ Southgate Institute, led by Professor Fran Baum, serves as a leader in steering Australian health policy analysis and making progressive recommendations.
- Investigating the sleep patterns of adults, adolescents, children and babies has led to a Flinders Social and Behavioural Sciences team making important discoveries about the quality of people’s sleep. Research and testing at the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health has resulted in important findings about Optimal Sleep Duration, the development of Re-Timer Light Therapy Glasses to help resolve chronic sleep disorders, and a team at the Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic investigating how to improve baby sleep patterns.
- Dementia and palliative care is an escalating concern with the rapid increase of Australia’s ageing population, with more than 425,000 Australians living with dementia, which has been identified as the second leading cause of death to Australians. Flinders researchers, under the leadership of Professor Maria Crotty are investigating programs that will deliver improved and cost-effective outcomes for older people, including people with dementia and their families, through to online guides for carers.
- Bold innovations in how Flinders teaches the next generation of nurses are being coupled with innovative research in furthering nursing practises. This includes embracing digital applications, best care methods for ageing and dementia, advances in point-of-care testing led by Professor Mark Shephard, progress in speech pathology for disabled people by Associate Professor Chris Brebner and assessing holistic plans that can reform public health care.
The public is welcome to attend any of the lectures during Flinders Health Research Week. Check the program here.