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Private Funding Enabling Australian Biomedical Research

4 November 2010 at 11:37 am
Staff Reporter
Opinion | Philanthropy is a significant enabler of vital biomedical research in Australia, says Perpetual’s Andrew Thomas, who manages the Ramaciotti Foundations.

Staff Reporter | 4 November 2010 at 11:37 am


Private Funding Enabling Australian Biomedical Research
4 November 2010 at 11:37 am

Philanthropy is a significant enabler of vital biomedical research in Australia, says Perpetual’s Andrew Thomas, who manages the Ramaciotti Foundations.

The biomedical sphere is one of the toughest areas in which to gain funding – the level of competition, coupled with limited public funding makes it difficult to take many areas of research forward. With so many subjects worthy of development, private philanthropy is a significant enabler of vital research projects across Australia. 

Andrew Thomas, General Manager, Philanthropy, Perpetual


The Ramaciotti Foundations are a prominent example of a substantial contribution to biomedical research. Established by Vera Ramaciotti, and managed by Perpetual, they have supported research by the likes of Professor Ian Frazer, developer of the world’s first cervical cancer vaccine, and the funding of a new laboratory for the John Curtin School of Medical Research.

Since making an initial contribution of $6.7 million in 1970, the Ramaciotti Foundations have grown to be worth more than $52 million, donated more than $48.5 million to biomedical research and are among the largest private contributors to the field. Some of the nation’s top scientists received Ramaciotti grants early in their career, and some of the most influential research institutes have benefited from Ramaciotti equipment grants.

The 40th anniversary of the Ramaciotti Foundations provides an opportunity to gauge the impact of a long-term giving strategy, which continues to make large donations (up to $1 million each) to researchers in the field.

Some of the more high-profile recipients include:

Professor John Coghlan received the inaugural Ramaciotti Medal in 1995 and since 1997 has been a member of the Ramaciotti Foundations’ Scientific Advisory Committee. The Ramaciotti Medal for Excellence in Biomedical Research was awarded to John in recognition of his research in the field of molecular biology and the development of a technique known as ‘in situ hybridisation histochemistry’. This technique has made it possible to identify which cells in organs such as the brain, kidney, liver and intestine contain the machinery to manufacture specific hormones.

Professor Ian Frazer was awarded the 2008 Ramaciotti Medal for Excellence in Biomedical Research in recognition of his work that contributed to the development of the world’s first cervical cancer vaccines – for which he is internationally recognised. His research project first received funding from the Ramaciotti Foundations in 1989 and was instrumental in getting his ground-breaking project off the ground. The more recent funding is assisting him to progress his work to the next stage – developing improved delivery methods for vaccines, particularly in developing countries.

Adjunct Associate Professor Janet MacCredie was a Ramaciotti Foundations grant recipient in 1976 for her work on neural crest injury. Her first grants from Ramaciotti enabled her to test and ultimately prove the theory of neural crest injury as the pathogenetic mechanism of thalidomide and similar embryopathies. After about 30 years of research into the pathogenesis of birth defects, she published a book "Beyond Thalidomide: Birth Defects Explained" in 2007.

Professor Rob Sutherland joined the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in 1985 with a research assistant and PhD student, at a time when the Institute had no cancer research capability. Early support from the Ramaciotti Foundations supplied equipment to set up a cell culture facility which formed the basis of Professor Sutherland's work, focused on estrogen and antiestrogen action in breast cancer cells. The success of this work facilitated the subsequent development of one of Australia's largest cancer research programs. It was also one of the contributing factors towards Professor Sutherland being awarded the Ramaciotti Medal in 2000. The Cancer Research Program has grown to more than 100 scientists and students and investigates several of the most commonly diagnosed (breast, prostate, colorectal) and fatal (pancreatic, lung and ovarian) cancers.

The Brain & Mind Research Institute received the $1 million Ramaciotti Biomedical Research Award in 2003. The grant was used to purchase an animal positron emission tomography (micro-PET) scanner, allowing the establishment of the ‘Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Centre for Brain Imaging’. The Centre encourages collaboration between more than 65 laboratories in the University and its affiliated hospitals.

Funding by private philanthropists, like the Ramaciottis, is essential to the ongoing research of some of the country’s largest – and not so large – institutions. In 2010, funds from a range of charitable trusts that Perpetual manages were directed to the likes of the National Heart Foundation of Australia, the AIDS Trust of Australia, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Macquarie University, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and countless more.

It’s testament to the difference that forward-thinking philanthropists can make, by having a vision of supporting medical breakthroughs, and putting in place the right strategy to achieve it.

Editor's Note: The Ramaciotti Medal for Excellence in Biomedical Research will be announced in Sydney tonight (Thursday 4th November)

This opinion piece was contributed by Andrew Thomas, General Manager, Philanthropy, Perpetual and was first published by Australian Life Scientist.

Flickr Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Horia Varlan

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