Name of Director Kathryn North
How long have you been the Director of the Centre? 4 years
When was the Institute established? In 1986
Here we talk with the Director of one of our newest Corporate Members the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute
What is your background?
Professor North trained as a paediatric physician (FRACP), neurologist (ANZAN) and clinical geneticist (HGSA). She received a doctorate (MD USyd) for research into Neurogenetics and completed her postdoctoral fellowship in the Harvard Genetics Program. She is Director of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI) and David Danks Professor of Child Health Research at the University of Melbourne.
Professor North is a translational scientist and is widely recognised as a world leader in four major areas of research – neuromuscular disorders, cognitive deficits in neurofibromatosis, the study of genes that influence athletic performance and the implementation of genomic medicine into clinical practice. She leads a large multi-disciplinary basic and clinical research team that has made major innovations in the areas of gene discovery, improved diagnosis and prevention, understanding of disease mechanism and the development and evaluation of novel therapies through clinical trials
How many people does the Institute employ? > 1500
What are your themes or core bodies of work in the centre?
MCRI is organised around 5 themes: Population Health, Clinical Sciences, Genetics, Cell Biology and Infection and Immunity. Our priority research areas include: Health Services Research, Genomics and Personalised Medicine, Global Health, Melbourne Children’s Trial Centre.
Our researchers span the continuum of laboratory research through to clinical, public health and health services research. Our research studies the health of communities, to understand the factors that affect child health and its management at the population level. Part of what we do examines the complex interplay of social, environmental, and biological factors that influence child health. We look at important health problems in children such as allergies, common infections and immune conditions both locally and globally.
The dedicated team investigate how cells function in healthy children and in those affected by disease. We also undertake research into how alterations in genes affect the health of children and work to uncover the genetic basis of disease to understand the causes and improve the management of genetic conditions.
Working alongside doctors and nurses, our researchers focuses on the clinical care of sick or hurt kids when they come to hospital, particularly when they have serious, acute or chronic illness. We also consider the mental and psychological wellbeing of those who undergo clinical care.
Is there one major achievement of the Institute that stands out for you?
Professor Ruth Bishop’s rotavirus discovery in 1973 and the development of a world-first vaccine specifically for newborns.
What trends have you seen in funding support for HSR in Australia and or New Zealand over the last decade?
The NHMRC’s support of Advanced Health Translation Centres and the Medical Research Future Fund are two recent examples of a shift in how medical research will be funded – with an increasing focus on applying HSR to underpin best research evidence to drive the best clinical care.
Around the world, researchers are constantly trying to ensure that research is relevant to decision makers. How do you ensure that you keep in touch with policy makers?
The MCRI and the Melbourne Children’s campus is home to individuals who are not only excellent researchers and clinicians, but are national and international leaders who are members of peak bodies and advisory groups (NHMRC, AAMRI, NHMRC MREA Advisory Group) and are invited as experts to guide policy (WHO, State and Federal Government committees).
What do you think has been the most significant change in the Australian health system in the last 10 years?
In paediatrics it has been the challenge of designing a health system to meet the needs of children and young people with “the new morbidities” e.g. obesity, diabetes, asthma, allergies and mental health issues including depression and anxiety. We have also not addressed health inequality despite significant advances in medicine.
What is the one change to the health system you would like to see in the next 10 years?
Real time, shared access to high quality patient level data across the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors. Without such data, we will risk continuing to work in silos, not knowing if change in one silo impacts services and patient outcomes in another silo. As a medical research institute working in partnership with a children’s hospital, we see that access to and use of such data could optimise sustainable and cost-effective solutions to drive both clinical excellence and equal access to the best care.
What would you like to see come out of this Association as a local and national body? What would be valuable to you and your Institute?
HSR is recognised as a major research discipline and has been embedded into Australia’s science and research priorities. The Association could play a key role in bringing together existing data sources (eg through an online repository) and advocating for better quality data collection across our health sectors (eg capturing a diagnosis in MBS billed consultations). This in turn would strengthen the quality of Australian HSR research and make it more useful to policy makers, researchers, patients, clinicians and funders.