MEDIA RELEASE: Road map to better health care system in Australia

A report released today by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) says that precision medicine has the potential to transform Australia’s health care system.

Precision medicine combines knowledge of a person’s unique genetic makeup, protein levels, and their environment to allow accurate disease prevention and treatment tailored to individual needs.

To date, the main focus has been in well-supported clinical areas, such as cancer, and ‘rare’ single-gene disorders which are a cause of intellectual and physical disability in children.

However, The future of precision medicine in Australia report says that opportunities to improve health outcomes for complex disorders, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are equally exciting.

“With careful planning, advances in precision medicine and the technologies that support it will offer great value for the health of all Australians. Precision medicine is the personalised medicine of the future,” said the chair of the ACOLA expert working group, Professor Bob Williamson.

Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, who commissioned the report on behalf of the Commonwealth Science Council, said it was a roadmap to a better health system for the nation.

“The essence of this report is optimisation: the optimisation of public policy for individual care. It provides the intellectual framework for a healthcare revolution that will shape the lives and choices of all Australians,” Dr Finkel said.

The report sets out how precision medicine will build on the strong tradition of medical research in fields such as immunology, genetics, vaccine development, bionics and imaging in Australia. It explains where precision medicine is likely to go over the next five to ten years. The report also notes that the technologies that underpin precision medicine are also of great value to other fields such as agriculture and the environmental sciences, where there is a high level of skill and commitment in Australia.

However, the report also warns that precision medicine could lead to genetic discrimination, or continue inequality of access to health care. Ensuring benefits to everyone in Australia will require ethical thought and planned implementation.

The forward-looking report has nine key findings, and is the second in the horizon scanning series. It was funded by the Federal Department of Health.

“By working in close partnership with the Chief Scientist and government departments, and bringing together some of Australia’s best minds, from many disciplines, ACOLA is able to provide evidence on priority issues for Australia to inform policy and guide opportunities,” said ACOLA President, Professor Glenn Withers.

The launch was attended by patient Louis (4), who has benefited from precision medicine, and his parents Amy and Martin. Louis was diagnosed with a severe condition at just five months old, which comes under the umbrella term of ‘Leigh’s Disease’. A comprehensive genomic analysis of his DNA allowed doctors to isolate the gene which had produced Louis’ illness, and develop a treatment regime.

After 10.30am on Wednesday 31 January, the full report can be found at www.acola.org.au

Media Contact:

Penny Underwood on (03) 9818 8540, 0409 925 299 or mediawise@mediawise.net.au

Expert Working Group

Professor Robert Williamson AO FRS FAA FAHMS (Chair)
Professor Warwick Anderson FAHA FASSA FAHMS
Dr Stephen Duckett FASSA FAHMS
Professor Ian Frazer AC FRS FAA FTSE FAHMS
Dr Carrie Hillyard FTSE
Professor Emma Kowal
Professor John Mattick AO FAA FRSN FAHMS
Professor Catriona McLean FAHMS
Professor Kathryn North AM FAHMS
Mr Adrian Turner

Background on Louis and his mother Amy Clarke

Amy and her husband Martin have three children – Noah (aged 10), Nina (9) and Louis (4). Their youngest child, Louis, was diagnosed with a severe condition at just five months old, which comes under the umbrella term of ‘Leigh’s Disease’.

Leigh disease is a rare (1 in 40,000) genetic condition that is caused by a defect in the cellular aerobic energy pathway, leading to developmental delay, low muscle tone, seizures and resulting in a progressive decline in neurological function. Mutations in a number of different genes can cause Leigh disease, but there is no cure and for most forms of the disease there is no specific treatment.

Amy said she and her husband were devastated to learn that their baby boy’s condition would worsen with time. “We were told he was unlikely to survive more than a few years.”

In June 2014, Louis’s family were contacted about the possibility of being involved in a research study that hoped to find the genetic basis of Louis’s condition. A comprehensive genomic analysis of his DNA led to a likely cause of Louis’s condition to be discovered. They isolated the gene which had produced Louis’ terrible illness and it was a gene mutation that responds to treatment!

Although this is a very new area of study, the researchers and doctors are confident that Louis’ condition is no longer terminal. Whilst the damage Louis has sustained to his brain is irreparable, careful and consistent medication should ensure he doesn’t experience any further damage.

“Precision medicine has changed our family’s life and we will be forever grateful,” Amy said.

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ACOLA welcomes new President, Professor Glenn Withers AO FASSA FRSN

The Australian Council of Learned Academies welcomes Professor Glenn Withers AO FASSA FRSN as the President of the Council for 2018. Professor Withers, President of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, succeeds Professor John Fitzgerald FAHA, outgoing President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, following scheduled rotation of the ACOLA Council Presidency.   

ACOLA also extends our congratulations and warm welcome to Professor Joy Damousi FASSA FAHA, newly elected President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities who succeeds Professor Fitzgerald.

Over the past year, ACOLA has benefited greatly from the presidency and leadership of Professor Fitzgerald as it has worked to establish several new projects as well as formal completion of the SAF Program. Under Professor Fitzgerald’s leadership ACOLA has continued to strengthen its reputation and derive value from its interdisciplinary approach to examining issues of major importance to Australia.

ACOLA recognises and is very grateful for the valuable legacy that Professor Fitzgerald and other Presidents have helped create over time. From the current “Horizon Scanning” reports to the ACOLA-developed projects that are being proposed ACOLA’s influence and the breadth of its audience continues to grow. These are valuable opportunities for the Academies and their Fellows to continue bringing novel and influential perspectives to address complex social, cultural and technological issues.

ACOLA thanks Professor Fitzgerald for his leadership and contributions, and looks forward to working with Professor Withers in his role as ACOLA President.  

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MEDIA RELEASE: Bright future for Australian energy storage despite public uncertainty

Bright future for Australian energy storage despite public uncertainty

A report released today by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) says that Australia has the potential to lead the world in developing large and home scale energy storage systems if public uncertainty can be overcome.

The report, The role of energy storage in Australia’s future energy mix shows that Australia has a wealth of natural advantages that could aid the development of new industries, exports and create jobs in mining and manufacturing.

It also warns that without proper planning and investment in energy storage, electricity costs in Australia will continue to rise and electricity supply will become less reliable.

The report finds the public had some awareness of energy storage such as batteries and pumped hydro but had very limited knowledge of other emerging technologies such as renewable hydrogen.

It also notes reluctance from consumers to install batteries at home for perceived safety reasons. However, the report identifies that Australians are fast adopters given the right market conditions, and there are 1.8 million homes with rooftop solar power systems that could use battery packs for energy storage.

“This report clearly shows the two sides of the coin – that energy storage is an enormous opportunity for Australia but there is work to be done to build consumer confidence,” said the chair of the ACOLA expert working group, Dr Bruce Godfrey.

“The best way to change attitudes is to increase understanding about energy storage.”

“Given our natural resources and our technical expertise, energy storage could represent a major new export industry for our nation,” said Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel.

“Energy storage is an opportunity to capitalise on our research strengths, culture of innovation and abundant natural resources.  We have great advantages in the rapidly expanding field of lithium production and the emerging field of renewable hydrogen with export opportunities to Asia.”

“This is the first in a series of ‘horizon scanning’ reports. By working closely with the Office of the Chief Scientist ACOLA aims to present evidence-based reports on key issues to the Prime Minister’s Commonwealth Science Council to inform policy making and identify opportunities,” said ACOLA President, Professor John Fitzgerald.

The report explains that energy storage solutions can improve Australia’s energy system in two major ways. First, by providing greater security by stabilising frequencies that fluctuate within seconds especially with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar farms. Second, by improving reliability by providing additional back-up power when needed in times of high demand such as heatwaves.

The forward-looking report has 10 key findings and contains detailed modelling and a national survey of more than energy 1,000 energy consumers.

Among the findings is that recycling of lithium ion batteries is an opportunity for Australia, where we already have a history of recycling more than 90 per cent of lead-acid batteries.

The report was co-funded by ACOLA and the Office of the Chief Scientist.

After 11.am on Monday 20 November:

The full report can be found at www.acola.org.au

 

Media Contact:

Penny Underwood on 0409 925 299 or mediawise@mediawise.net.au

Expert Working Group

  • Dr Bruce Godfrey FTSE (Chair)
  • Professor Robyn Dowling
  • Professor Maria Forsyth FAA
  • Professor R Quentin Grafton FASSA
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MEDIA ALERT: Bright future for Australian energy storage despite public uncertainty

A report to be released on Monday 20 November by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) says that Australia has the potential to lead the world in developing large and home scale energy storage systems if public uncertainty can be overcome.

The report, The role of energy storage in Australia’s future energy mix shows that Australia has a wealth of natural advantages that could aid the development of new industries, exports and create jobs in mining and manufacturing. 

Details:

Time: 11am

Venue: Senate Alcove, Parliament Gallery, Canberra

Media enquiries: Penny Underwood, 040 99 252 99

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MEDIA RELEASE: An Eye to the Future: Shaping Australia’s Tomorrow

‘Securing Australia’s Future’– book launch, 28 June 2017, The Shine Dome, Canberra

Maintaining a strong education system and building industries of the future are two of the key findings in the Securing Australia’s Future book, launched today by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA).

Securing Australia’s Future was a four year, $10 million investment to help shape the nation’s priorities. It comprised 11 studies and was funded by the Australian Research Council.

The final publication, Securing Australia’s Future: Harnessing interdisciplinary research for innovation and prosperity, explores each of the program’s 11 studies and draws out a set of overarching findings on how to ensure Australia’s future prosperity. These include maintaining Australia’s strong education system, embracing Australia’s relationships in the Asia-Pacific region, and building industries of the future.

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel AO, said the Securing Australia’s Future project was a valuable way for the Learned Academies to help policy makers anticipate how developments in science will change the lives of all Australians in the years to come.

Securing Australia’s Future engaged some of the nation’s most respected minds on perhaps the country’s most critical brief: the path to prosperity in the decades ahead,” Dr Finkel said.

“But it’s a never-ending mission. Securing Australia’s Future also lays the foundation for a follow-up phase of Horizon Scanning reports, which will continue to advise government on the social and economic changes we can expect as Australia contributes to a digital and global economy.”

ACOLA President Professor John Fitzgerald said Securing Australia’s Future provided expert advice from Australia’s finest minds to ensure a productive and collaborative future for Australia.

Securing Australia’s Future brought together leading experts from across the disciplines to guide Australia through times of global change. Each of the findings is informed by well-researched evidence to support decision making and advise industry, government and the Australian community of the critical issues we face.” Professor Fitzgerald said.

The five Key findings from Securing Australia’s Future are:

  • Securing a prosperous future needs economic, social and cultural changes that is facilitated by visionary leadership and targeted investments in skills, infrastructure and innovation.
  • Celebrating our relationships in the Asia-Pacific region will help Australia find new opportunities supported by language, cultural awareness and extended networks and linkages.
  • Building industries of the future and adapting to change will require increased investment and a commitment to innovation. This includes building better links between business and research, and a capable workforce that combines humanities and science capabilities for creative problem solving.
  • Maintaining strong foundations in science, technology, engineering and maths education requires us to better engage those who are enthusiastic, at all levels and from all backgrounds.
  • For Australia to provide global leadership in environmental sustainability and adaptation, we need to leverage our strength in innovative research, and build our capabilities in urban planning, transport and clean energy solutions.

ACOLA undertook the Securing Australia’s Future program for the Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council and then the Commonwealth Science Council, through the Office of the Chief Scientist.

The Securing Australia’s Future book was authored by Simon Torok and Paul Holper and is available from www.acola.org.au/wp/saf-book. For more information about Securing Australia’s Future, visit www.acola.org.au or email info@acola.org.au.

The ACOLA group that oversaw the synthesis process included Professor Peter McPhee AM FASSA FAHA (Chair), Dr Susan Pond AM FTSE FAHMS, Professor Ruth Fincher AM FASSA and Dr John Burgess FTSE.

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Media contact: Jennifer Cromarty, tandemVox M: 0413 241 033 E: jennifer@tandemvox.com.au. Angus Henderson M: 0416 684 114 E: angus@acola.org.au. All media materials including images, text and videos can be accessed via www.acola.org.au

About ACOLA:
ACOLA is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that supports evidence-based interdisciplinary research. ACOLA combines the strengths of the four Australian Learned Academies: Australian Academy of Science, Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, Australian Academy of the Humanities and Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.

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