Featured News New frontier in tropical health and medicine research

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Fri, 7 Oct 2016

New frontier in tropical health and medicine research

AITHM Townsville
AITHM Townsville

Australian research into tropical health and medicine has received a major boost with the opening of a $31M world-class infectious diseases research facility at James Cook University’s Townsville campus.

The Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk today officially opened the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine’s (AITHM) new facilities.

AITHM Townsville will undertake research into tropical infectious diseases and will develop vaccines, diagnostic tools, and the identification of bacterial pathogens.

JCU Vice Chancellor, Professor Sandra Harding said AITHM is a crucial element of JCU’s goal to create a brighter future for people living in the tropics, and the opening of the Townsville facilities cements Australia’s position as a global leader in tropical health and medicine.

“JCU has a proud history of research and development relevant to the tropics, and the research AITHM undertakes will improve health in the tropics both within Australia and worldwide.

“There are extraordinary opportunities for Australian tropical medicine given Northern Australia’s proximity to the fast-growing nations of the Asia-Pacific region,” Professor Harding said.

AITHM’s Director, Professor Louis Schofield said research programs underway within AITHM include identification, prevention and better treatments for tuberculosis, development of malaria vaccines and peripheral artery disease.

“The Institute will build essential research programs in tropical health and medicine for Australia and the region, specifically building important biosecurity capacity for Northern Australia.

“Our tropical locations and capabilities make a significant contribution to Queensland’s competitive advantage in knowledge-based industries directly relevant to Asia and the Pacific in the areas of research, research training, and the transfer and commercialisation of research findings”.

The Townsville facility and research undertaken within it will:

  • Focus on re-emerging bacterial diseases for which tropical Queenslanders are at significant risk, including tuberculosis, melioidosis and Q fever, and on communicable disease diagnostics and control;
  • Provide a bio-bank facility for clinical and epidemiological samples;
  • Engage new high-quality biomedical research staff to join existing researchers;
  • Host visiting experts (visitors and trainees will include participants from Australia and from neighbouring countries);
  • Train and mentor young researchers and health professionals involved in translating innovation into practice,
  • And accommodate proof-of-concept work leading to commercialisation opportunities.

Facilities include world-class physical containment laboratories for the safe handling of hazardous microorganisms (PC2 and PC3 laboratories). The PC3 laboratory will be used to for research into tuberculosis.

The building also includes a Translational Research Facility, which will allow patients to undergo clinical trials of research findings, improving the delivery of health care for those living in tropical regions.

It will also provide space for researchers in key supporting disciplines, including biostatistics, epidemiology, bioinformatics and health economics.

The Queensland Government has invested $21.49M in AITHM Townsville and the Federal Government has provided funding of $8M, via the Australian Research Council’s Special Research Initiative Scheme.

Economic driver:

During the construction phase of AITHM Townsville, over 600 workers were inducted to the site, with approximately 160,000 hours worked. At least 95% of workers employed were from Queensland and 85% from North Queensland.

Within the new AITHM Townsville building there are approximately 36 kilometres of communications cabling and 41 kilometres of power cabling.

The building is supported with 95 tonnes of structural steel, and 4,500 tonnes of concrete.

AITHM is also building facilities in Cairns and on Thursday Island.


Richard Davis

Head of Media and Communications, JCU


0413 451 475