From the Head of School
Welcome to the winter edition of the Melbourne Medical School newsletter. As one half of the world emerges from its first winter living with COVID-19, we head into ours and I continue to be astounded by the resilience of staff and students during these uncertain times. Late last month, we witnessed the coming together of our 1400-strong Doctor of Medicine (MD) student cohort for their annual conference. Usually run at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the conference organisers (led by student co-convenors Varun Kaushik and Justin Lee and Subject Co-ordinator Dr Justin Bilszta) worked wonders to create an equally compelling program in an online format, including keynotes from multi-award-winning journalist Leigh Sales and tobacco-free finance campaigner Dr Bronwyn King AO.
Return to Campus
While we have adapted our activities in many ways to halt the spread of COVID-19 I am pleased to report that it has been possible for some of our laboratory-based colleagues who are undertaking specialised research projects to commence returning to campus. Professor Fred Hollande from the Department of Clinical Pathology, based at the VCCC, who returned in early June, said, “People are extremely happy to be back, no doubt about it”. While the modified workplace behaviours required for social distancing can at first seem “unusual and new”, he says an upside is that “motivation is renewed and refreshed”. The biggest challenge is rostering and coordinating with other groups to ensure experiments take place to a schedule, while keeping to a limit of 30 percent occupancy, with morning and afternoon shifts. Fred credits Department Manager Angela McKellar and Lab Manager and OH&S Business Partner Charmaine Grant, with meticulous preparation and timely support during this period.
While we have re-entered a further period of stage three restrictions, we continue our planning for an eventual return to campus. I encourage everyone to have frequent, early conversations with their supervisor on key topics such as safety, mental and physical wellbeing, engagement and productivity. Managing hot desking, meeting spaces, shared facilities, and travel arrangements are just some of the issues we need to carefully work through. Please visit the Staff Hub Covid-19 site for the latest updates on the University’s phased, partial return to campus, including specific guidance for researchers. We all need to continue to exercise patience, empathy and respect for each other and a preparedness to adapt as best as possible as the situation changes.
While recruitment is currently restricted to business-critical positions, it is possible for positions that are solely funded by philanthropic or external grant funding to proceed once the appropriate approvals have been obtained so that time sensitive research projects are not delayed unnecessarily.
Doctor of Medicine – Rural Medical Pathway
I am pleased to report that the capital works project being undertaken at our Department of Rural Health Shepparton campus remains on track to welcome 30 MD students enrolled in the Rural Medical Pathway program in 2022. This program, in partnership with La Trobe University, has been funded by the Federal Government as part of the Murray-Darling Medical Schools Network.
While many capital works projects at the University have been put on hold, the first sod is due to be turned later this year. As well as accommodation for 30 students, we are creating additional state-of-the-art teaching and learning spaces that will feature exciting virtual and augmented reality technology such as Virtual Anatomy Tables. I will share some of the architect’s concept images for the development with you as they become available.
Baker Department Seed Funding Grant Outcomes
I am pleased to announce that the Baker Department of Cardiometabolic Health recently awarded $500,000 of seed funding to four research groups through a competitive scheme run for projects involving staff from the Baker in collaboration with any other Department throughout the University. The successful projects are:
- Structure-based development of novel anti-inflammatory drugs targeting C-reactive protein, led by Professor Karlheinz Peter (Baker) with staff from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Bio 21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute
- Atrial remodelling and risk of arrhythmias in endurance athletes, led by Professor Andre La Gerche (Baker), with staff from the Department of Clinical Pathology and Department of Medicine and Radiology
- CAPLA trial: Catheter Ablation for persistent atrial fibrillation: a multicentre randomised trial of Pulmonary vein isolation (PVI) vs PVI with posterior Left Atrial wall isolation (PWI), led by Professor Peter Kistler (Baker), with staff from the Department of Medicine and Radiology
- Risk of heart failure in women following preeclampsia: is prevention possible?, led by Associate Professor Natalie Hannan (Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology) with staff from the Baker and Department of Medicine and Radiology.
These projects will further strengthen the University’s partnership with the Baker Institute and will enable research groups to refine their program of work before progressing to external grant funding opportunities in the future. I extend congratulations to all of the successful research groups on behalf of the School.
Research Translation Professional Development Program
Before closing, I’d like to commend to you the new Research Translation Professional Development Program. Co-developed by the Melbourne Medical School and Research, Innovation and Commercialisation (RIC), it provides resources to help avoid commercial pitfalls and maximise the impact of research translation. It features interactive content on aspects of translation such as presenting to investors and the legal ins and outs, as well as links to register for workshops.
Professor John Prins
Head of School