Today most Australians can expect to lead long, healthy lives well into their ninth decade. But it wasn’t always so. One hundred years ago Australians could expect to barely live into their sixties. It was common for children to die in infancy or be maimed for life by infectious diseases. Adults were cut down in their prime. Women died in childbirth. Men were felled by heart attacks before they reached retirement. Cancer was a death sentence. Pushing back these scourges, many Australians now live well into their eighties.
Many Australians, but not all. While medical advances now prevent and cure many deadly diseases – witness breast cancer, where in a generation we have gone from 80 per cent of women with breast cancer dying within five years of diagnosis to more than 90 per cent now being alive five years later – the outlook for people afflicted by some common diseases has barely changed in thirty years. Diseases like brain cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, pancreatic cancer and heart disease, to name only a few.
We desperately need to find new ways to prevent, diagnose, treat and cure diseases and disorders to give hope, prevent suffering and extend to all Australians the promise of a long healthy life. We need to lead the way finding solutions that will eradicate diseases of poverty in Australia and abroad.
Every day at QIMR Berghofer we have over 900 scientists and support staff undertaking research in more than 69 specialised laboratories. We have exceptional people with world-class skills and dedication, but they can’t do it without the backing of their community.
The problem with medical research isn’t the science, it’s the funding. Put simply, there’s not enough of it. Our scientists have many promising opportunities to pursue, that can remain just that, intriguing questions that remain unanswered, promising leads that can’t be chased, because of lack of funding.
While the need for medical research is as great as ever, unfortunately it is becoming more and more difficult to fund our life-saving work at QIMR Berghofer. The main source of funding for medical research in Australia is the Commonwealth Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). In 1980, 43 per cent of applications for funding the NHMRC received were successful. But the amount of funds available has not kept up with demand. This means a lot of important research simply can’t happen and, as a consequence, highly trained scientists with successful track records are leaving the sector, causing a ‘brain drain’ that will slow the progress of research.
Compounding the problem, the grant funds received do not cover the full cost of the research they enable. For every dollar we receive in grant funding, we need to find another 65 cents to make the research happen. QIMR Berghofer relies on the support of generous donors to make sure our vital research continues. The Queensland Government provides annual funding that covers our administrative costs. That means that 100 per cent of any donation to QIMR Berghofer goes to live-saving medical research.