VIDEO: $4.4 million for new Microbiome Research Centre at St George and Sutherland Hospitals to study bugs causing diseases in the gut

Greg Hunt's announcement of the funding is applauded by Professor John Edmonds, chairman of the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation. Picture: John Veage
Greg Hunt's announcement of the funding is applauded by Professor John Edmonds, chairman of the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation. Picture: John Veage

Australia’s first medical research centre dedicated to studying bugs in the gut will be established at St George and Sutherland Hospitals.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced funding of $4.4 million to the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation for the Microbiome Research Centre.

It is the most significant project in the foundation’s 10 year history, and the centre is expected to become a world leader in this field of research.

Banks MP David Coleman said the funding met a 2016 election promise, and would cover capital works as well as employing more researchers and assistants.

The centre will build on research already being undertaken in collaboration with clinicians at St George and Sutherland Hospitals.

This research has implications for a huge number of people who suffer, or may develop, diseases from bugs in the gut.

Mr Hunt said it was estimated one in two Australians would experience a digestive problem over the next 12 months.

Some imbalances in microbiota were connected to diseases, including stroke, asthma, obesity, diabetes, mental health, and pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, he said.

Mr Hunt said the centre would investigate how disturbance occurred and caused disease.

This was a critical step in preventing it occurring in the first place.

Professor Emad El-Omar, who came from Scotland last year to be the new Professor of Medicine at St George and Sutherland Hospitals, is leading the research.

“The bugs that grow in your gut have a major influence on your health, and are responsible for lots of diseases that affect our community and our society,” he said.

“It is essential the centre is embedded in the clinical domain in our hospitals, led and driven by clinicians who understand disease, but utilising state of the art science and technology to answer those clinical questions,” he said.

“For that reason, I think it was so important to be able to establish a structure or a body like this, because it needs funding, effort and takes a lot of commitment.

“There is already lots of work that has been done, lots of collaboration.

“I am a gastrologist, but  I am working with obstetricians, renal physicians, other gastrologists and others.

“This is very exciting  because it allows us to link up with things like critical care, mental health, diabetes...

“Also, research is going to be focused on how the microbiome influences disease, identifying markers that predict your risk and then putting in place clinical trials that allow us to address those deficiencies or abnormalities.

”We are all about prevention, so you don’t get to the end product, the disease.”

Chief executive of the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation, Peter Christopher, said the project would be “a cornerstone” for the foundation’s growth to international status.

“The foundation has funded many good projects, but this is the most significant in 10 years,” he said.

“The facility itself is important, but it’s the doctors who will be working here who will give it the higher status.

“Professor El-Omar will be joined by another leading professor from the UK.

“There is interest from all over Asia, from PhDs  to fellows and graduates, who want to to come and work with him.

”While it will be based in our two hospitals, the importance will be international.”

Foundation board member, Cathy Yuncken, the general manager, business banking, St George Bank, said it was “a proud moment” for the bank.

”Having worked with the group of doctors to establish the research foundation 10 years ago, and after the hard work with the medical community, the hospital, the health service and the community, this project is going to bring tremendous opportunity for the foundation for the health care of the community,” she said.

”We look forward to continuing our support in this next exciting stage.”