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Support for Collaboration Down Under


A new Wellcome Trust partnership with the governments of Australia and New Zealand is offering scientists from these countries, Southern Asia, and the Pacific the chance to collaborate to bring established research potential to countries that lack and need it. The newly created or reinforced collaborations will be dedicated to both building research capacity and improving health outcomes in developing countries of the region.

Half of the £12 million needed for the programme will come from the Wellcome Trust, with the remainder coming from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and New Zealand?s Ministry of Research Science and Technology and Health Research Council. This money will support about 10 awards for scientific research teams made up of both scientists from developing countries in South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific and researchers from New Zealand or Australia. The Wellcome Trust?s donation is designated to fund the costs incurred in the developing countries whereas work done in Australia and New Zealand will primarily be financed by their own funding bodies.

This is far from the first time that the Wellcome Trust has worked with Australia and New Zealand, having invested more than £30 million in such collaborations since 1984. However most of these previous schemes have been Senior Fellowship awards involving help with equipment for Australia and New Zealand themselves. By contrast, the new International Biomedical programme, which was launched in May this year, aims primarily to assist developing countries by increasing their research capacity while simultaneously broadening the research base in Australia and New Zealand. The chief executive officer of Australia?s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Professor Alan Pettigrew, says: ?The new arrangement is an important component of the NHMRC?s responsibility to support research that benefits health in Australia and in countries of the region."

The new programme hopes to tackle health problems in resource-poor countries. Therefore, research proposals may focus on infectious and noncommunicable diseases as well as health service or policy-related issues--lab or field based. Proposals focussing on health service research should be aimed at devising policies to increase people?s access to medical provisions where health services have limited funds.

All applications should focus on the developing country itself. Dr Mary Phillips, head of the Wellcome Trust?s International Biomedical programme, advises applicants to look very carefully at the criteria. ?Proposals should have a good base in science and embrace important issues," she says. ?It is essential that you ask yourself, ?is something extra being added by this being a collaborative effort?? " She also stresses that successful entries will require attainable objectives that translate into real outcomes for the developing countries involved.

But it is not only the developing countries that will benefit. Successful collaborations must involve reciprocal training. For example, scientists from China might travel to Australia to learn from the substantial research capacity available there, but their Australian counterparts must also have the opportunity to travel in the opposite direction and benefit from Chinese expertise in the field.

This all sounds very pricey I hear you say! Well, yes, it is. But do not fear: The funding will cover all project costs, which can include equipment, salaries, training, and all travel expenses.

The applicant groups must have principal investigators from both the developing country and Australia or New Zealand. A team can be based on existing links between the target nations or can formulate an entirely new relationship. The scheme is keen to encourage multidisciplinary research, so groups that bring together individuals with different and complementary expertise will be favoured. Co-investigators could therefore include biomedical, clinical, epidemiological, and population dynamics specialists, for example.

?We are keeping the criteria for candidates as broad as possible to encourage applications," admits Phillips. ?The preliminary application will be used to whittle down applicants, but the form is not too onerous to fill in." Nevertheless, the leaders must be established scientists at one or more institutions and cannot be employed in industry at the time of application. Principal investigators in particular should be qualified to PhD or equivalent level and possess a strong record in research, whereas the body of a team can be made up of researchers of all academic levels--from postdocs to undergraduate fieldworkers.

So the message that is being given out is clear: If you?re from down under and you?re interested, apply. But apply soon--the preliminary deadline is 15 October 2002.

For more information on applications and division of funds, see the Wellcome Trust, Australia?s NHMRC, and New Zealand?s HRC Web sites.