Construction starts on new Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery

Construction has commenced on a new $206 million biomedical engineering research facility at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.

The preliminary stage will involve piling works to allow the construction of the basement and foundations for the new building. The basement slab is scheduled to be poured in July.

The Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery (ACMD) will be a global leader in the use of new technologies including robotic, digital and data engineering to develop health care solutions with life-changing impact.

The 11-storey building’s unique position on the hospital’s Fitzroy campus will also see it play a key part in the Victorian Government’s 10-year plan for Melbourne’s new biomedical precinct.

The ACMD will become a powerhouse of Australian-led research driven by real-life clinical need. Projects aim to address complex health challenges with a core focus on prevention and early intervention, as well as creating an ability to fast-track clinical trials and device development, to benefit patients sooner.

Among some of the novel technologies being utilised by ACMD researchers to transform the future of health care are artificial intelligence, implantable digital devices, regenerative medicine and 3D-printing.

“We are proud to be developing this world-leading research facility at our Fitzroy precinct. Having a research centre of this calibre embedded within the footprint of the hospital connects the dots. It allows our clinicians to work directly with engineers and scientists to forge change based on real-life health need,” said Nicole Tweddle, Chief Executive at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.

The new 16,500sqm building will include 3D printing laboratories, a human kinetics lab and insulated rooms for the development of sensitive hearing and vision technologies. There will also be engineering workshops to produce medical device prototypes and robotics that can be used to help accelerate clinical trials.

An education hub will form a key part of the ACMD. It will be used to help nurture future clinical, nursing, allied health and biomedical research innovators and leaders. The space will incorporate multiple seminar and tutorial rooms, a clinical simulation laboratory, and a large lecture theatre extending over two levels with scope to host national and international conferences and major events.

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Image: (L to R) Dr Erol Harvey, Minister Mary-Anne Thomas, Nicole Tweddle, Premier Dan Andrews

Embracing a collaborative focus

A multidisciplinary approach is at the heart of the ACMD vision, with its focus on breaking down previous barriers between research, engineering development and clinical application.

“Strong collaborative partnerships that bring together leading universities, research institutes, a leading tertiary hospital within a national health care group and major industry partners underpin the valuable work being done through the ACMD,” said Dr Erol Harvey, CEO of the ACMD.

Professor Mark Cook, Director of Neurology at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, is currently leading two international epilepsy studies in collaboration with the Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery.

Both world-first research projects are investigating ways to better treat and manage epilepsy using innovative technologies.

Prof Cook, one of the visionaries behind the concept of the ACMD, has worked as a consultant neurologist for 30-plus years at St Vincent’s, specialising in the treatment of epilepsy. His father, who developed epilepsy that was unable to be managed by medication at the time, inspired Prof Cook’s commitment to explore new ways to improve the quality of life for patients.

Through the ACMD’s unique collaborative environment, Prof Cook has been able to work alongside engineers and scientists on medical research projects that address real-life clinical needs he has identified working with epilepsy patients over the years.

“Bringing clinicians and engineers together leads to new approaches to some of the most challenging medical problems and means we can develop and build better solutions faster,” said Prof Cook.

The ACMD is a collaboration of nine partner organisations – St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, the Bionics Institute, the Centre for Eye Research Australia, University of Melbourne, RMIT University, Swinburne University of Technology, Australian Catholic University and the University of Wollongong Australia.

The new building, which has been designed by Denton Corker Marshall and is being built by Kane Constructions, is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year and fully operational in 2025.

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Image: (L to R) Nicole Tweddle, Dr Erol Harvey and Professor Mark Cook