Topics: New Frontiers for Vision; euthanasia; stillbirths
Look, thanks very much to Professor Margaret Gardner, Professor Elizabeth Croft and Professor Christina Mitchell and to our amazing researchers Professor Arthur Lowery and Professor Geoffrey Rose.
In a sense, Monash University is the very model of the university in the 21st century.
It’s about taking the pure research and then applying it to patient benefit and at the same time, potentially, providing an enormous source of revenue and wealth for the university and for Australia in the future.
It’s about ideas benefiting patients. In today’s world, what a university does is to take the raw brainpower and then to translate it to not just economic outcomes but above all else human outcomes.
Today, the Monash University Cortical Frontiers Project is about a very simple concept. It’s about giving sight to those people who cannot see, it’s about giving movement to those who have lost the capacity to move and potentially, it’s even about returning speech to those who have lost the ability to speak. These are the levels and the magnitude of what’s being proposed by Monash today.
From an Australian Government perspective, we have a Medical Research Future Fund which will grow to be a $20 billion endowment within the next two years.
That will mean that in perpetuity, we will be able to support new frontier science projects and the frontier science program is a half a billion-dollar program. And the very first round involves projects such as the Cortical Frontiers Project today.
So I am delighted to announce almost a million dollars for the Monash University Cortical Frontiers Project.
At its essence, it’s about ensuring that we are creating new transistors at the absolute cutting edge of electroceuticals, the emerging equivalent of pharmaceuticals, where Melbourne, Australia will help lead the world, through Monash University’s amazing work, to implant in the brain a new transistor that will provide brain stimulation which will lead to sight, to movement and to speech.
It will also have enormous potential for economic outcomes for Australia.
So I want to thank Margaret and Arthur and Geoffrey and their teams for all of their work. But to say to patients: today is about hope, it’s about science, it’s about discovery all coming together to put Melbourne at the forefront of Australia, and Australia at the forefront of the world in terms of giving people real opportunities to lead better lives.
I might ask Arthur to tell us a little bit about the project and then I’m happy to take any questions.
Well, thank you very much. I’d like to thank my team (inaudible) university for supporting us and also the (inaudible) and (inaudible) for providing us with funding more recently (inaudible) Connect.
This is a fantastic program. It’s an extremely different way of applying grants in that there’s a (inaudible) stage before the actual research and commercialisation stage.
This scheme ticks all the boxes. It provides health to people – health outcomes, it provides commercialisation, it builds an industry base in Australia where we can build more devices not just in the brain but all over the body.
We’ve been planting electronics in the body which is a harsh environment, a long lived environment fortunately, and by doing this we can communicate with the body’s sensors. We can drive prosthetics.
We can restore speech and vision. But the may other – be other things we can do such as pain relief for example. So, I think we’ll be at the forefront of this technology throughout the world and we need to be there.
We need to have a high-tech industry which can both provide our people and people around the world with new interventions, but it can also support our health by paying taxes and bringing money into the country.
The other great thing about this scheme is it focuses the universities on providing benefits, ongoing all the way from an idea through to building an industry. And that’s what I really like to do and that’s what our team loves to do. And thank you so much for giving us the opportunity for doing this.
Frank. Thank you.
I have to say well done. Arthur is one of the most enthusiastic senior researchers I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. Over to you.
Yes, okay. You touched on some (inaudible) outcomes that we as (inaudible). Can you elaborate on that and explain how it will benefit not just patients or whoever may end up having one of these in their brain, but the rest of Australia please?
This little transistor can provide big benefits to patients, but big benefits to the country. And it does that by potentially creating jobs here at the university but also in advanced medical manufacturing.
It also has the capacity to create enormous wealth for the university, for the state, and for the country. Where we see around the world new industries developing, those are the sources of real growth in wealth.
We’ve at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for example, they helped develop Venetoclax. Venetoclax is a breakthrough new treatment in terms of leukaemia and progressively other different forms of cancers, saving lives but also generating a $400 million dollar revenue stream.
My hope is that this in the end becomes a billion dollar business for the university. But even more importantly this little transistor which has a lot of work in it is ultimately about saving lives and protecting life.
Why is it important (inaudible) programs like this?
These programs help people restore their sight, restore movement, restore speech, so it’s a human goal first and most importantly but it also has an enormous part of Australia being a global leader in new technology, and if we put those two things together that’s the definition of a good society and a successful country.
I’ll also ask you about euthanasia now. Victoria’s legislation comes into effect from today, your thoughts on the bill?
It is a matter for the Victorian government. I think rightly under the Constitution these issues should be decided at the level closest to the people, and so we respect that decision. It’s not our policy, but our approach has been neither to assist nor to prevent. So it’s a matter for Victoria and it’s been determined by the Victorian Parliament.
Do you imagine that the states may well now look at it too?
We know it’s being considered in Western Australia at the moment. So each state will have to determine for itself what their position is on this. Alright.
I’ve got one. Six months ago a series of recommendations were handed down after a Senate inquiry into stillbirths. Have any of these recommendations been implemented?
Yes. I saw the comments today by Kristina Keneally and they were flat plain wrong and incorrect.
We have already enacted a significant round of funding not just once but twice.
So we’ve provided funding on two occasions, welcomed at the time by the relevant Senator, and I am surprised that something as important as this to which there has been a very significant response was not just politicised today but politicised in a way which was inaccurate and misleading.
Okay. The rate of deaths from stillbirth is higher than the national road toll. Are we failing Australian families? Why more needs to be done?
So, we actually supported the creation a bipartisan Senate committee. It was conducted in a bipartisan way and we haven’t responded just once, we’ve responded twice in terms of direct funding.
For a Senator to airbrush misleadingly that is I think disappointing and I think that as someone comes into the Federal Parliament, they have certain responsibilities.
I suspect that the Senator, however passionate she is on this issue, ought to rethink her approach to the way in which she conducts Parliamentary business. If good faith is given, good faith should be returned.