Healthy Development

World Class Facilities Attract Billions

Medical Marvels Drive Smart City

words by Brad Crouch
photography by Matt Turner

In Adelaide’s once sleepy West End, a remarkable transformation is well underway where health goes hand in hand with wealth. About $4 billion is being poured into the biggest Health and Biomedical Research Precinct in the southern hemisphere.

This gleaming new high-tech, smart-thinking precinct is attracting world-class researchers, millions of dollars in research grants and the interest of “big pharma” medical companies keen ride the lucrative crest of important medical research breakthroughs.

The anchor for the site is the $2.1 billion, 800-bed new Royal Adelaide Hospital, rapidly nearing completion. The new RAH will change the dynamics of medical care, with robot porters, exclusively single rooms with views and admissions streams that would have some patients bypassing the emergency department waiting room. It will be the most earthquake-proof building in Australia when finished, able to function in “island mode” in the event of a natural catastrophe. The precinct is also about preventing disease and improving health care.

The Federal Government chipped in $200 million for the SA Health and Medical Research Institute headquarters building adjoining the new RAH. Housed in a eye-catching building fondly nicknamed “the cheesegrater” (modelled on a pine cone), SAHMRI’s founding members are the three SA universities and its research partners are the CSIRO and EMBL Australia. It houses SA’s first and only cyclotron, which produces radioisotopes used for cancer diagnosis in PET scans. SAHMRI’s major research themes are Aboriginal health, cancer, healthy mothers, babies and children, heart health, infection and immunity, mind and brain, and nutrition and metabolism. All themes overlap, and the open design of SAHMRI encourages collaboration at HQ and with partners across the state and the globe. The ability of researchers to cross pollinate ideas extends into shared canteen facilities, where a casual conversation between cancer, heart and infection researchers can lead to new ideas.

SAHMRI has attracted talented researchers from around the world and won millions in research grants, generating wealth as it improves health. Part of the aim is to markedly increase SA’s share of the national research grants pie which, pre-SAHMRI, stood at about 7 per cent compared with Victoria’s 46 per cent.

An analysis by consultants Ernst and Young in 2013, when SAHMRI opened, estimated it would support more than 900 full-time jobs by 2020 and contribute $277 million to the local economy. The institute also has a mission to swiftly translate research “from bench to bedside” – to make sure laboratory work is quickly put to practical use improving health care rather than being consigned to a journal on a shelf.

While SAHMRI is off and running and the new RAH is close to completion, more pieces of this research jigsaw are falling into place in a precinct that aims to link researchers, clinicians, students and patients in a productive crucible. Flinders University has committed $60 million to a planned $280 million SAHMRI 2 research hub, which still hinges on federal funding. There are also plans to shift a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital to the precinct by 2023 in a project worth at least $600 million, although money is yet to be earmarked. The precinct also has space for a private hospital.

The area is fast becoming more than just the sum of its parts, in a city where relatively small size and ease of access for collaboration are major assets in building a new health and biomedical research industry.

Public SAHMRI tours run at 2pm every Friday,
except public holidays, until December 16.
To register call 08 8128 4000 or visit

PHOTO: Who are the Smart minds inside Adelaide’s impressive SAHMRI building?

Associate Professor James Ward is a prime example of the excellent work being done at SAHMRI, and how advances in health attract wealth. As head of Infectious Diseases Research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, he has attracted nearly $9 million in funding grants in just six months. His work is mainly in sexually transmitted diseases and bloodborne viruses in the indigenous community as well as the drug ice — he is on the Federal Government’s National Ice Taskforce. He is recognised as an expert on issues confronting indigenous people’s health. In the past five years he has delivered at least 20 major presentations, including the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne in 2014, and written more than 50 publications. In an age when younger generations are familiar with Tinder but not the Grim Reaper AIDS campaign, his work with indigenous youth is crucial. Rates of sexually transmitted infections are growing among young indigenous people.

This work includes the STRIVE study collecting data from 67 remote communities, the TTANGO randomised trial of chlamydia and gonorrhoea point-of-care testing in remote Aboriginal communities, and the GOANNA national project checking the health of youths.


Howard Florey

Nobel Prize

Adelaide Uni graduate in medicine Sir Howard Florey’s pioneering work conducting clinical trials turning penicillin into lifesaving antibiotics revolutionised medicine and subsequently saved tens of millions of lives. Among many honours, he shared the 1945 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

William Henry BRAGG & SON

Nobel Prize

Adelaide Uni lecturer Professor Sir William Henry Bragg and his son Professor Sir William Lawrence Bragg – a University of Adelaide graduate – were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1915 for their work analysing crystal structure by x-ray.