Adelaide BioMed City’s double Dutch research


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By Belinda Willis

Adelaide’s impressive new hospital, the striking South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and the legion of learning facilities nearby sealed the deal in attracting Dutch cardiologist Johan Verjans and Yvette van Eenennaam to the city.

It was two years ago when the talented couple was in the midst of exploring health research opportunities including in Sydney and Amsterdam, when Adelaide emerged the winner.

“Seeing the new hospital, it exemplified the ambition of a city to create change, and I think that is what helps attract people,” Johan says.

“Australia is a relatively well funded country but competitive and it’s hard to find that whole package like it is in Adelaide in other places, with liveability, ambition and world-class research.”

Both Johan and Yvette have stepped into leading health research roles for the city after arriving in Adelaide in 2017 with their two daughters aged seven and five.

Yvette Eenennaam and Johan Verjans chose SA over other states and cities to pursue their medical and health research careers.

Johan works as a cardiologist and heart health researcher at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) and SAHMRI. Last year he was appointed deputy director of Medical Machine Learning at the recently established Australian Institute of Machine Learning (AIML) to apply artificial intelligence to biomedical research.

Yvette was made the first general manager of Adelaide BioMed City, one of the largest health and life sciences clusters in the southern hemisphere, after it was officially launched last year. Before joining Adelaide BioMed City, Yvette worked for large multinationals in leading roles and had a focus on organisation development, change management and expansion through partnerships.

Located on North Terrace, BioMed City is a partnership between the state’s independent, flagship health and medical research institute SAHMRI with its more than 600 medical researchers, the Central Adelaide Local Health Network and the state’s three universities.

Its mission is to be a globally recognised partnership leading the world in research, education, clinical care and population health.

“Our goal is to build impact, leverage investment and inform evidence-based healthcare and innovation in ways that could not be achieved separately,” its statement says.

Yvette saw the group’s strategic plan signed off in February and is working to make plans to further strengthen the collaboration and to jointly bid for infrastructure and research funding.

“We’re a decent sized city, but compared to the east coast it’s very competitive, we need to work together in specific domains if we want to leverage the huge potential and make a global impact in any way,” she says.

Yvette is already hosting delegations of potential investors from Singapore, Taiwan and Sweden keen to see the opportunities.

“Particularly with plans for SAHMRI 2 there is a dedicated floor space for industry and additional clinical trial space,” she says.

Inside SAHMRI.

This new building will have lab and office space for biomedical companies and educational institutions. It will also house Australia’s first proton therapy unit to provide the most technologically advanced precision radiation therapy ever seen in the southern hemisphere, delivering cancer destroying protons to the tumor site of otherwise inoperable cancers, without affecting healthy tissues.

Gaining the expertise of Johan and Yvette has been a coup for the city. Johan is also a senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide and an associate investigator of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Nanoscale Biophotonics. He is associate editor of the Netherlands Heart Journal, and author of Springer/Nature’s first book on AI in medical imaging – and recently was awarded the Ahrens Researcher Award by the Australian Heart Foundation.

Johan believes there is great interest and opportunity in using artificial intelligence (AI) to advance health care, and his push to grow this has led to the job as deputy director of Medical Machine Learning at AIML.

“We see opportunities in reducing congestion in emergency departments of hospitals, since 12% of admissions in the emergency department are for chest pain of some sort,” Johan says.

By using existing data from ECG, biomarkers and AI, it could potentially provide better feedback on the risk of that pain to an individual patient, and to see whether it is safe for them to be sent home or be admitted, he says.

“Research is exploding in the AI space and in Adelaide we have a clear advantage, with leading groups in AI at AIML and world class biomedical research at SAHMRI,” he says.

“Adelaide BioMed City has so much potential. I don’t think people in SA realise with AIML we have one of the best machine learning groups in the world on North Terrace, together with three highly ranked universities, and SAHMRI which recently made the top 40 of the world’s best research institutions. We can make a difference in one of the world’s most liveable cities.”

Industry in focus: Health

Throughout the month of April, the state’s health industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia’s health sector is among the best in the world, renowned for developing new and advanced technologies and research outcomes. Our health industry infrastructure is world-class, providing new pathways and job opportunities, as well as a growing potential for health tourism.

Read more health stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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