Wollongong Hospital unit opens door for more clinical trials

A new unit at Wollongong Hospital will shift research from the benchtop to the bedside – connecting scientists with clinicians and boosting the likelihood of future medical breakthroughs.

The Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) unveiled its clinical research and trials unit, inside the hospital’s Lawson House, on Monday.

The hospital-based trials supplement work being done at IHMRI’s University of Wollongong base and allow the organisation to conduct research outside of its current capabilities. 

IHMRI executive director Professor David Adams said the unit, which has three treatment rooms and a laboratory, would allow researchers to “generate new resources for treatment of patients”.

“We are bringing world-class health and medical research into the hospital system and directly to the groups who can most benefit from it,” Professor Adams said.

The institute’s work currently centres around neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia and motor neurone disease, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, like diabetes, as well as oncology. 

Professor Adams said the new unit, setup in collaboration with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, would give IHMRI the means to expand. 

“This provides an optimal environment to actually carry out, hopefully in the future, some drug trials,” Professor Adams said. “That’s a restriction we have currently when we’re based on the university campus.”

A number of trials are already planned at the hospital.

IHMRI’s clinical research and trials coordinator Fiona Love said two studies were “in the pipeline” – one into Crohn's disease, which it’s hoped will begin by year’s end, and another into endometriosis pain.

The facility has also provided space for a professor conducting a study into dementia.

“The hospital’s always stuck for space. We’ve got a purpose built area here where … they can come and use our space, and use our expertise, to help the clinicians actually get their trials off the ground,” Ms Love said, adding the new unit was also a win for patients.

“It brings it [the research] from benchtop to bedside and so it closes that loop,” Ms Love said.

“Some of the research that we do over at the university, perhaps in mental health or motor neurone disease, that can be translated into real care for patients.”  

Professor Adams said it made sense for IHMRI to work out of the hospital. 

“The general public identify with a hospital in terms of illnesses and treatments more so than the university, per se,” he said.

“To me, the future growth of the institute will be in this hospital.”