If anyone doubted the value of medical research as the cornerstone of a healthy society, then the devastating global impact of COVID-19 should put that to rest. 

According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 169 COVID-19 vaccine candidates under development, with 26 of these in the human trial phase.  Israel and Australia are among this cohort. Medical research is delivering for the global community.

While the public is focused on the desperate race to find a vaccine, the research community is committed to addressing a far wider range of ongoing medical needs. A flashpoint has always been diseases that affect the vulnerable young, particularly babies and toddlers.

The pandemic has understandably diverted attention away from many other critical areas of medical research. This is not in the community’s long-term interest.

The Hadassah Australia Medical Research & Collaborations Foundation (HAMRC) was established to codify existing relationships between the best Australian medical and scientific researchers and their counterparts at the Hadassah Medical Organisation (HMO). These relationships have been long-standing and game-changing. The extent to which these have impacted both communities – and beyond – is explored in this newsletter and on our website.

The purpose of HAMRC is to improve patient outcomes. It seeks to do this by accelerating the pace of world-class research and the translation of innovative medical breakthroughs into novel therapies that will inform clinical protocols both in Australia and internationally.

This is achieved by facilitating and funding high-level multi-disciplinary research between HMO, the largest research hospital in Israel, and leading Australian research institutions.

A good example is our support for research to prevent premature babies from developing chronic kidney disease (CKD) later in life.  By twinning researchers from Australia and HMO, we have been able to combine Australia’s advanced imaging techniques with HMO’s in-vivo modelling. At the moment that modelling is in the experimental phase using mice, but it appears that through research it will be possible to increase the number of nephrons* at birth by up to 50%. This would be an extraordinary, life-affirming outcome if it comes to pass. (*A nephron is the basic structural and functional unit of the kidneys). 

As the majority of nephrons are produced in the last four weeks of pregnancy, premature babies are born with an insufficient nephron load, making them 3-5 times more susceptible to developing CKD.

The research being conducted by Australian and HMO scientists aims to provide a way to stimulate the immature kidneys of premature babies to produce nephrons.

The importance of this work is evident in the numbers. CKD is a devastating illness that affects more than 740 million people globally. In Australia, it’s estimated that one in every 1,400 people requires regular dialysis or a kidney transplant in order to survive. This places an estimated burden of $1 billion each year on Australia’s healthcare system.

When viewed through a global lens, the need for this research is profound; in societies that don’t enjoy the standard of healthcare available in Australia and Israel, the impact of CKD per head of population is even more significant.

According to a 2017 study published in The Lancet, CKD has been recognised as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease independent of other conventional risk factors.  It is also a risk multiplier in patients with hypertension and diabetes.

The attraction for Australian researchers is HMO’s status as one of Israel’s most awarded and successful research centres. It is where nearly 60% of all hospital-based research is conducted in the country. When we speak about Israel punching well above its weight in research, we are referring as much to the HMO as to any other public or private research service.

One reason is that doctors are encouraged to become researchers.  This has resulted in a seamless shift from the bedside to the laboratory. The success of this philosophy was borne out by the number of HMO physician-researchers who were awarded grants in 2020 by the Israel Science Foundation.

Now, more than ever, the world is looking for answers to what many perceive as intractable health problems. By supporting the HAMRC and two great centres of research, we believe many of these problems can be addressed and overcome.

Dr Errol Katz
Chair, HAMRC