AITHM James Cook University

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James Cook University has launched its newest building in Cairns, featuring an additional 16 laboratories and cryogenic facilities capable of storing clinical material and research samples at temperatures as low as –1900 C.

Officially opened by the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator the Hon. Matthew Canavan, this is the second building on campus devoted to the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM).

JCU Vice Chancellor Professor Sandra Harding said the building would enable AITHM’s 53 staff and 32 postgraduate students in Cairns to expand their work and training.

“We’re proud to have not just some of the world’s leading researchers working here, but also some of the future world leaders in tropical health and medicine, striving to create a healthy and prosperous future for the tropics,” she said.

“Inspiring work happens here. Malaria, dengue fever, non-healing wounds, asthma, schistosomiasis – these are all words that rightly make us anxious. But here, they are among a long list of topics of great interest, problems to be tackled, better understood, and one day solved.”

The Australian Government provided $18M for the building, via the Australian Research Council’s Special Research Initiative Scheme. The Queensland Government contributed a further $6.5M. New AITHM buildings have also been established in Townsville and the Torres Strait.

“This building represents a further investment in northern Queensland’s knowledge-based economy,” Professor Harding said. “It supports our talented researchers and it will help to attract more of them to work and live in our region.”

AITHM Director, Distinguished Professor Louis Schofield, said the tropical zone provided the Institute’s scientists with their greatest challenges, as well as potential solutions.

“On the one hand we investigate and aim to solve the health and medical challenges posed by life in the tropics, and those are considerable, especially for developing countries and underserved populations. But we also see the abundant animal and plant life of the tropics as a treasure trove, providing the basis for new drugs and therapeutics.

“Here, we’re in sight of the rainforest, with the Great Barrier Reef just off the coast. I can’t imagine a better location for a tropically-focussed research team,” he said.

“Work underway here includes development of seven vaccines to treat tropical diseases, as well as innovative ways to harness the power of the immune system to fight chronic, inflammatory and allergic diseases.”

The new building offers expanded laboratory space, including a secure facility designed for certification as QC2, or Quarantine Containment Level 2, for the safe study of mosquitoes that can spread tropical diseases.

“Once certified, the QC2 lab will power our research into mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, malaria, zika and chikungunya – along with the impressive, world-class mosquito biology research infrastructure we already have here at JCU,” Professor Schofield said.

The new cryogenic freezers will support research on materials from Queensland’s rain forests and coral reefs, such as venoms, toxins and microbes that either threaten health in the tropics, or might have therapeutic applications.

The ultra-low temperature storage will also allow close collaboration between the AITHM and Health and Hospital Services across northern Queensland.

“We will be able to store clinical material and research samples under the highest quality conditions,” Professor Schofield said. “Subject to the usual processes for obtaining patient/donor permission as well as research ethics approval and appropriate agreements being reached, this material may be used for research, adding to our knowledge of health in the tropics.”

The building was designed by Jackson Architecture, Conrad Gargett and local firm Fisher Buttrose Architects, and was constructed by Hutchinson Builders.

Media enquiries: linden.woodward@jcu.edu.au

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