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Newcastle
Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Heavy investment in Hunter’s research capability

The Hunter’s health and medical researchers are set to benefit from a new collaboration.

Port Waratah Coal Services (Port Waratah), Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and Hunter New England Local Health District (HNELHD) have joined forces in a partnership, which will assist residents throughout the region in the future.

Port Waratah has invested more than $300,000 over four years, from its Community Investment Partnership Program, to part fund a new clinical informatics project with HMRI.

The initiative, and role, are strategically based within HNELHD.

It will help researchers and clinicians to efficiently unlock and interpret the wealth of existing health system data.

HMRI is using its Strategic Infrastructure Fund to part finance the role, too.

The region’s clinical informatician Peter Mastello boasts years of experience working within NSW local health districts in informatics and data management.

A pharmacist originally, he has a Masters of Information Technology from the University of Newcastle. 

Mr Mastello admitted the health system was data rich but information poor.

He said extracting good health facts benefits both patients and community by building the capacity of researchers. 

Across HMRI, the University of Newcastle and HNELHD, it will support a broad range of clinical research and accelerate translational research that improves health care and systems, as well as patient outcomes.

One of Mr Mastello’s priorities will be linking data across disparate and unconnected data bases and finding patterns in clinical data sets.

He said the use of big data, “clinical informatics”, is rapidly growing across Australia and the world.

“By making aggregated and anonymous patient data more available, researchers and clinicians can identify new clusters of disease and answer important questions to improve the health of our communities,” he told Newcastle Weekly.

“Accessing data that already exists can save researchers and funders time and money.

“The data and trend analysis will also help HMRI, researchers, clinicians, and health service leaders to identify research priorities.”

Port Waratah CEO Hennie du Plooy said the project was invaluable to the Hunter community because it built the region’s capacity to support clinical and health service research.

“One of the most exciting aspects is facilitating researchers’ and clinicians access to rich healthcare data, allowing them to plot changes in health trends and follow up patient care long term, or identify opportunities for local patients to benefit from and assist with research,” he stated.

“HMRI is a leading research organisation with a proven track record, not just in this region, but nationally and internationally.

“There’s an economic benefit to the region by Port Waratah investing in research capability and having infrastructure to attract and retain the top researchers here in our region.

“Our Community Investment and Partnership Program aims to work in partnership with our community to make Newcastle, and more broadly our region, smarter, resilient and more sustainable.”

HMRI interim director Professor Mike Calford said the investment by Port Waratah was a significant boost to research infrastructure.

“It supports the strategy that HMRI, HNELHD and the University of Newcastle have in place to attract and support researchers and position the region as a global leader in translational research,” explained.

“Clinical informatics also has the potential to encourage private sector investment in research, such as pharmaceutical companies investing in drug trials in the Hunter.”

Port Waratah also supports research into asthma and physical activity.

The organisation’s funded Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered program won the Benefiting Society category of the Australasian Green Gown Awards on 26 November.

It was also a finalist in the Engagement Australia Excellence Awards.

“Our partnerships with the business community are vital in gaining other funding to offer hope and find answers that save lives,” Professor Calford said.