PhD research by Dr Tiong Cheng Sia into the enteric nervous system of the gut, sometimes known as the body’s “second brain”, has been made possible by donations from a group of clinicians who work at Flinders University and Flinders Medical Centre.
Drawing on the proceeds of their private practice, the Clinician’s Special Purpose Fund has provided around $3 million in grants since it was founded some 20 years ago. The Fund’s management committee is chaired by surgeon and Flinders graduate Professor David Wattchow.
In that time, the trust fund has financed a continuous PhD scholarship through the FMC Foundation, three separate PhD scholarships, two Fellowships through the University, and numerous smaller grants for students presenting research overseas.
The group also contributed $1 million to the construction of the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer.
Dr Sia, a surgical registrar who is currently putting the final touches to his thesis, said his research centred on the mechanisms that allowed peristalsis, the ‘squeezing’ action that creates motility in the bowel, to act seemingly independently of the body’s major neurotransmitters.
Research on the enteric system has traditionally focused on animal models, but with consent from surgical patients, the Flinders laboratory is now able to use human tissue samples to achieve new insights.
“All in all, it’s been a very productive three years, and all of it has been made possible by the Clinician’s Special Purpose Fund,” Dr Sia said.
Dr Sia said the co-location of research laboratories and FMC’s clinical wards creates an almost unique set of opportunities, and the resulting research has put the University among the very top centres for research on the digestive system in Australia.
The Clinician’s Special Purpose Fund is managed by a group of senior specialists at FMC: Professor David Wattchow (Surgery); Associate Professor Peter Marshall (Neonatal Intensive Care); Dr Jeff Bowden (Respiratory Medicine); Dr Evan Everest (Intensive and Critical Care); Dr Santosh Poonoose (Neurosurgery); and Dr Jacob Chisholm (Surgery).
A recent review of the fund by the SA Department of Health has approved its governance.
“Our aim now is to continue to use the funds from private practice excess to underwrite research programs,” Professor Wattchow said.
He said the collaborative nature of research at Flinders is a vindication of the original vision of the Foundation Dean of Medicine, Professor Gus Fraenkel, in co-locating the University’s medical school with the hospital.
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