Billions in infrastructure, millions in grants and cutting-edge drug trials: a new era of western Sydney health research

Professor Mark McLean is director of research across Western Sydney Local Health District.

Billions of dollars in infrastructure, millions in research grants and new partners clamouring to get involved all point to one truth: western Sydney is the hottest property in Australia of health research right now.

The new Central Acute Services Building officially opened last month, jewel in the crown of the NSW Government’s $1 billion-plus investment in the Westmead Redevelopment, but it’s far from the only new building emerging from the ground at Westmead.

Western Sydney University, CSIRO and the University of Sydney have all made significant commitments to the Westmead Health Precinct, while research capacity is also growing rapidly at Blacktown, Auburn and Mount Druitt.

No health district in the state matches the research output of Western Sydney, according to Professor Mark McLean, the newly-appointed director of research for Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD).

His role is responsible solely for research – a small but significant change to the job as Prof McLean steps into the large shoes of retired Research and Education Network director Professor Stephen Leeder.

“Managing research in the district is a massive business. There’s around $60 million of funding, enormous enterprises, and hundreds of researchers working on around 2000 projects,” Prof McLean explains.

“By any way of measuring output, it’s big business, and growing at about 10 per cent a year.”

Prof McLean is a clinical endocrinologist with a strong research background in diabetes management, pregnancy and pituitary disorders.

Prof McLean said Westmead Hospital’s foundation as a teaching and research institution, combined with western Sydney’s large population and concentration within the public health system, help explain what makes the district such an innovation powerhouse.

“Already at Blacktown and Mount Druitt hospitals, around 20-25 per cent of cancer patients are being treated in clinical trials, getting access to the most cutting-edge drugs,” he said.

“Research and education has now grown to the extent that it makes sense to split the two.”

“We are on the brink of an exciting time for health research. We are about to see a big explosion across the district.”

Prof McLean, whose background is clinical endocrinology, first joined Blacktown Hospital in 1996.

In the decades since he has overseen an ambitious Research Strategic Plan for Blacktown and Mount Druitt, and in recent years witnessed a significant attitude shift at Westmead Health Precinct.

“It’s really noticeable that each institute feels like part of a team, a partnership,” he said.

“We have a great opportunity to share resources and harness all the work happening to kick along some really sophisticated research.”

The Westmead Health Precinct is one of the largest health, education, research and training precincts in Australia, including four major hospitals, four world-leading medical research institutes, two university campuses and the largest research intensive pathology service in NSW.