Translational Research Institute, Woolloongabba
Tuesday 17 November 2020
Delivered by Professor Deborah Terry AO, Vice-Chancellor and President, The University of Queensland


Thank you, Professor Gandhi.

I, too, acknowledge the Traditional Owners and their custodianship of the lands on which we meet today and pay my respects to their ancestors and their descendants – as we walk together on the path to reconciliation.

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • Dr Peter Steer, Chief Executive Officer of the Mater Group.
  • Professor Scott Bell, Chief Executive Officer of the Translational Research Institute.
  • Mr Andrew Thomas, Executive Director of the Mater Foundation.
  • And the Mater Foundation Board, Executive and Donors – for your ongoing generosity and support of Mater Research. 

Finally, I’d like to express my thanks to Professor Gandhi, and the Mater Research team, for the invitation to deliver the keynote address, here, today.

I jumped at the opportunity, because this Showcase really exemplifies the type of research collaboration that’s needed to develop not only medical breakthroughs, but also for building Australia’s innovation ecosystem.


At The University of Queensland, we have a close, long-standing, historical connection with the Mater.

In fact, UQ and Mater are two Brisbane-based institutions that have followed a very similar historical trajectory.

Our two organisations came into being just a few years apart.

The Sisters of Mercy opened the very first Mater Hospital at North Quay in 1906. That original Mater Hospital had just 20 beds and treated 141 patients in its first year of operation.

The University of Queensland was born five years later – in 1911. 

In that first year, UQ taught 83 students across three faculties – Arts, Science and Engineering.

From those humble beginnings, both institutions have continually evolved, improved and grown over the past century. 

And both institutions have become iconic fixtures of this city, making an enormous contribution to the health, education and welfare of the people of Brisbane and Queensland.

Indeed, the combined impact of our healthcare, education and research programs is felt well beyond our state. Both institutions are now making an impact across Australia – and around the world.


The parallel histories of the Mater and UQ started to become interconnected around 75 years ago. That’s how long we’ve been in some form of partnership.

Initially, that partnership involved UQ’s medical and science students travelling to the Mater for clinical physiology classes that were often taught by the Sisters of Mercy.

Today, the nature of our collaboration is both deep and broad.

In terms of education, there are over 500 UQ students – in medicine, nursing, midwifery and allied health – who undertake placements each year at the Mater.

From our perspective, those placements give our students the opportunity to gain clinical experience and apply the knowledge that they’ve learnt in the classroom.

And from the Mater’s point-of-view, I’m sure our students provide valuable support while on placement. But it’s also an opportunity for the Mater team to identify the many talented clinicians that are coming through.

Of course, the other significant area of long-term collaboration between our two institutions is in medical research.
In 2013, we entered into a more formal partnership with the foundation of MRI-UQ, which operates as a full institute within UQ’s Faculty of Medicine.

There are nearly 300 researchers, clinicians and students working at Mater Research, today – and the vast majority of them also hold positions at UQ.

By working in a collaborative clinical setting and applying a ‘bench to bedside’ philosophy, these researchers have a genuine opportunity to convert scientific discovery into improved patient care and treatments.

As a result, today, we’re recognised globally for our approach to improving patient outcomes in a range of areas – including cancer care; chronic disease; cognitive health; and mothers’, babies’ and women’s health.


I’m sure you’ll get the opportunity to hear about many of these ground-breaking clinical research programs throughout today’s Showcase.

I’d just like to quickly share the details of one of them.

Sandie McCarthy is the Professor of Clinical Nursing Research at UQ’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work.

She is an outstanding nursing researcher, who is jointly employed – 50/50 – by both institutions and works under the MRI-UQ banner. 

Earlier this year, Sandie was awarded a $2.25 million grant by the Medical Research Future Fund.
Her research project is investigating the role of exercise in the long-term health outcomes of women who have had chemotherapy.

Ultimately, Sandie expects that this research will enable her to gather the evidence base to establish a 12-week lifestyle program for women following chemotherapy.

Based on her previous research, Sandie is confident that this program of lifestyle and exercise interventions will not only improve the health and wellbeing outcomes of women, it will also lower the chances of cancer recurring and improve survival rates.

Sandie says that without being embedded in Mater Research, she could not have assembled the multi-disciplinary team – with expertise across medicine, nursing, psychiatry, diet and exercise – to bring her research project to life.
And, equally, without holding an academic position at UQ, she would not have qualified for that significant MRFF grant.

So, Sandie’s research really exemplifies why we, at UQ, are so committed to partnering with Mater Research.
In simple terms, we’re better together.


In many ways, today’s Showcase is being held at a watershed moment for medical research, globally.
The disruption to normal life caused by the pandemic has meant that medical scientists have been front-and-centre in combatting COVID-19.

These scientists, from universities and medical research institutes across Australia, have been visible in the media on a daily basis, offering advice to a community that is hungry for accurate information about the virus.

This expertise has shaped the Government’s public health response.

And, thankfully, it has also seeped into our public discourse – influencing the community’s very positive response to the COVID restrictions and the public health measures.

It’s a clear example of how university-based expertise has helped us – as a society – to deal with one of humanity’s great challenges.

Throughout this year, we’ve also witnessed teams of researchers across the country working tirelessly to improve our understanding of the virus, in an effort to slow its spread, or, better still, stop it in its tracks. 

Our Mater-UQ teams have been part of this fight for understanding.

Together, our researchers are working in collaborative teams that are studying how the virus interacts with diabetes; the length of COVID immunity in people who have recovered from the virus; as well as an investigation into the virus’s impact on expectant parents and their unborn babies. 

UQ researchers even developed a method of detecting viral fragments in waste water and sewage – as an early indicator of community outbreaks.

And, of course, we also have a brilliant team at UQ, led by Professor Paul Young, that’s developing one of the world’s leading COVID-19 vaccines. 

The vaccine is now in human clinical trials.

Of course, it’s too early to claim victory, but the results, so far, are looking very promising – and that should give us all a sense of hope that we will recover from this pandemic.


When we do, eventually, emerge from the other side of this pandemic, I am convinced that the commercial translation of our home-grown R&D is going to be vitally important to driving Australia’s economic recovery.
As a nation, we have a very proud history of invention and break-through R&D.

Think of the life-changing impact of: IVF, the cervical cancer vaccine, the bionic ear or spray-on skin. 
Each of these inventions emerged from research conducted at our universities. 

Today, Australia is recognised globally as a research powerhouse.

We produce around 4% of the world’s research publications despite being home to just 0.3% of the world’s population.

However, without doubt, we need to become better at translating our research into commercial benefits for the nation.

In the 2019 index that ranks economies according to their innovation performance, Australia ranked only 22nd in the world. 

So, despite the fact that we punch well above our weight for innovation inputs, such as R&D; for a long time, Australia has lagged behind most other developed nations for innovation outputs. 

Clearly not enough of our inventions are being translated – here in Australia – into new products or services that have commercial or societal impact.

This is a missed opportunity for our nation, because the commercial translation of our home-grown R&D has the potential to generate entirely new industries and new jobs for Australians.

Thankfully, though, there’s increased recognition right now – across government, industry and academia – that this is something that we need to address.

To me, there appears to be a groundswell of activity directed at creating a more effective innovation ecosystem in Australia – to drive economic growth as we emerge from the pandemic.

It’s a point that was reinforced via government funding for discovery science and research translation in the recent Federal Budget. 

And it is also a point that has been articulated, repeatedly, over recent months by the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Education Minister.


If you want to understand how an innovation ecosystem should work, you only need to take a good look around this building.

The Translational Research Institute was initially established as a partnership between Queensland Health, UQ, QUT and Mater Research.

Its purpose is to bring together medical researchers and clinicians, with patients, to solve health challenges faster – and then translate its solutions into commercial outcomes.

As a result, TRI has become a thriving innovation precinct that’s leading the world in discoveries related to immunotherapy … the human microbiome … and diagnostic imaging.


Often we look at major institutions like the Mater – or UQ, for that matter – and we can assume that these organisations have some kind of self-fulfilling momentum that propels them towards growth and progress.

It’s an easy way to comprehend the historical leap that the Mater has made from treating 141 patients in its first year of operation – to now treating around 500,000 patients, per year.

Or how UQ has gone from teaching just 83 students in 1911, to around 55,000 students today.

But this kind of growth was neither pre-destined, or an accident of history. 

Our two organisations have endured because they were both built with a sense of purpose – to serve the community.

Over the years, we’ve always attracted people with ideas and vision, who believe passionately in that purpose. 
And these individuals have had the conviction to bring their ideas to life.

I’m convinced that it’s the inspiration of individuals, working in clever collaborations that drives progress and creates positive change in our world.

Today, we have the privilege of witnessing some of that genius up close – and learning about how these inspirational individuals are going to drive medical science, and humanity, forward.

I trust you’ll enjoy the showcase!     

Thank you.