Adelaide BioMed City’s double Dutch research

Adelaide’s impressive new hospital, the striking South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and the legion of learning facilities nearby sealed the deal in attracting Dutch cardiologist Johan Verjans and Yvette van Eenennaam to the city.

It was two years ago when the talented couple was in the midst of exploring health research opportunities including in Sydney and Amsterdam, when Adelaide emerged the winner.

“Seeing the new hospital, it exemplified the ambition of a city to create change, and I think that is what helps attract people,” Johan says.

“Australia is a relatively well funded country but competitive and it’s hard to find that whole package like it is in Adelaide in other places, with liveability, ambition and world-class research.”

Both Johan and Yvette have stepped into leading health research roles for the city after arriving in Adelaide in 2017 with their two daughters aged seven and five.

Yvette Eenennaam and Johan Verjans chose SA over other states and cities to pursue their medical and health research careers.

Johan works as a cardiologist and heart health researcher at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) and SAHMRI. Last year he was appointed deputy director of Medical Machine Learning at the recently established Australian Institute of Machine Learning (AIML) to apply artificial intelligence to biomedical research.

Yvette was made the first general manager of Adelaide BioMed City, one of the largest health and life sciences clusters in the southern hemisphere, after it was officially launched last year. Before joining Adelaide BioMed City, Yvette worked for large multinationals in leading roles and had a focus on organisation development, change management and expansion through partnerships.

Located on North Terrace, BioMed City is a partnership between the state’s independent, flagship health and medical research institute SAHMRI with its more than 600 medical researchers, the Central Adelaide Local Health Network and the state’s three universities.

Its mission is to be a globally recognised partnership leading the world in research, education, clinical care and population health.

“Our goal is to build impact, leverage investment and inform evidence-based healthcare and innovation in ways that could not be achieved separately,” its statement says.

Yvette saw the group’s strategic plan signed off in February and is working to make plans to further strengthen the collaboration and to jointly bid for infrastructure and research funding.

“We’re a decent sized city, but compared to the east coast it’s very competitive, we need to work together in specific domains if we want to leverage the huge potential and make a global impact in any way,” she says.

Yvette is already hosting delegations of potential investors from Singapore, Taiwan and Sweden keen to see the opportunities.

“Particularly with plans for SAHMRI 2 there is a dedicated floor space for industry and additional clinical trial space,” she says.

Inside SAHMRI.

This new building will have lab and office space for biomedical companies and educational institutions. It will also house Australia’s first proton therapy unit to provide the most technologically advanced precision radiation therapy ever seen in the southern hemisphere, delivering cancer destroying protons to the tumor site of otherwise inoperable cancers, without affecting healthy tissues.

Gaining the expertise of Johan and Yvette has been a coup for the city. Johan is also a senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide and an associate investigator of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Nanoscale Biophotonics. He is associate editor of the Netherlands Heart Journal, and author of Springer/Nature’s first book on AI in medical imaging – and recently was awarded the Ahrens Researcher Award by the Australian Heart Foundation.

Johan believes there is great interest and opportunity in using artificial intelligence (AI) to advance health care, and his push to grow this has led to the job as deputy director of Medical Machine Learning at AIML.

“We see opportunities in reducing congestion in emergency departments of hospitals, since 12% of admissions in the emergency department are for chest pain of some sort,” Johan says.

By using existing data from ECG, biomarkers and AI, it could potentially provide better feedback on the risk of that pain to an individual patient, and to see whether it is safe for them to be sent home or be admitted, he says.

“Research is exploding in the AI space and in Adelaide we have a clear advantage, with leading groups in AI at AIML and world class biomedical research at SAHMRI,” he says.

“Adelaide BioMed City has so much potential. I don’t think people in SA realise with AIML we have one of the best machine learning groups in the world on North Terrace, together with three highly ranked universities, and SAHMRI which recently made the top 40 of the world’s best research institutions. We can make a difference in one of the world’s most liveable cities.”

Industry in focus: Health

Throughout the month of April, the state’s health industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia’s health sector is among the best in the world, renowned for developing new and advanced technologies and research outcomes. Our health industry infrastructure is world-class, providing new pathways and job opportunities, as well as a growing potential for health tourism.

Read more health stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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International education one of SA’s top export earners

The value of international students to the South Australian economy continues to grow – last financial year generating $1.62 billion and positioning international education as one of the state’s top export earners.

Almost 38,000 international students were enrolled in SA universities, education institutions and schools in the 12 months to November last year, and with universities opening their lecture theatres for the new semester later this month, thousands more students are set to arrive.

Karyn Kent, CEO of StudyAdelaide, the main organisation marketing Adelaide as the learning city, says Adelaide has always had a solid reputation as an education city, but the number of enrolments and the value of the sector are on the rise.

She says international student enrolments have been climbing by about 6% since 2014, with the majority of students coming from China and Hong Kong, followed by India, Nepal, Malaysia, Korea and Kenya.

“The value of the sector has been growing by about 10% (each year),” she says. “It’s estimated by Deloitte that around 43% of that ($1.62 billion) is spent on education fees, and the other 57% is spent on living expenses, housing, food, entertainment and things like that.

“That’s the ongoing daily impact that international students are having on our economy. It’s certainly generated some big investments. We’re about to do some research with city businesses to try and get a feel for the retail sector in the CBD and whether they’re noticing it as well.”

Karyn says a large proportion of SA’s international students in the vocational and higher end education sectors study business, accounting and finance degrees, while engineering, health and IT are other main areas of study, followed by hospitality and education.

Adelaide’s three main universities, the University of Adelaide, the University of South Australia and Flinders University, have various campuses across the city and regional SA. The University of Adelaide is the oldest, established in 1874.

Adelaide is home to dozens of other education institutions including TAFE SA and campuses of Carnegie Mellon University and Torrens University Australia.

So what makes Adelaide attractive to international students?

“Lifestyle is definitely one of the key benefits,” Karyn says. “International students can afford to live close to their campus here in Adelaide, we have a really diverse and welcoming environment and I think we give the impression that we’re a team and a family here.

“But if you look at other drivers of destination choice it’s ‘does the city have the course I want to study?’, ‘is it a nice place to live?’ and employability opportunities are all really important.”

SA is already home to a number of international student success stories, people who have gone on to stay in SA and pursue business ventures.

Web design and app development studio PixelForce was born from a university assignment that became one of SA’s fastest growing businesses. One of its most high profile clients is fitness guru Kayla Itsines, who tasked PixelForce with generating her Sweat app.

Another success story is Harbour Bottling, a wine bottling plant exporting up to 400 shipping containers of locally produced wine a year, mostly to China. Both these companies were established by international students who now call SA home.

It is unknown exactly how many international students end up calling SA home, but a 2018 report released by the Australian Treasury and Department of Home Affairs called Shaping a Nation estimated that 16% of international students in Australia eventually transitioned to permanent residency.

“The SA Premier (Steven Marshall) has been very upfront about migration as a way to address low population growth and international students are a big part of that story,” Karyn says.

“If we get the settings right, it makes it more attractive and easier for international students to stay.”

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment David Ridgway says the State Government has demonstrated its commitment to growing international student numbers by increasing StudyAdelaide funding to $2.5 million.

A Ministerial Advisory Committee for International Education has also been established, bringing together education institutions, peak bodies, government and private providers to develop a strategy to sustain further growth in the sector.

“International students make an enormous contribution to the state, not only economically, but also socially and culturally and become invaluable tourism ambassadors for SA among their friends and family back home,” Mr Ridgway says.

“Graduating international students become young professionals with a global outlook and we have seen countless examples of them joining or creating local businesses to help drive economic growth across industries in our state.”

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

Throughout the months of January and February, the state’s trade and investment industry will be explored as part of I Choose SA.

South Australia is in a prime position for trade and investment opportunities as we have a 24-hour connection to international markets and a prime reputation for our premium products and services.  Read more trade and investment stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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