Melbourne Research Unit for Facial Disorders

More about the MRUFD

  • The Melbourne Research Unit for Facial Disorders (MRUFD) comprises a group of orofacial practitioners and researchers with a common vision that translational research holds much promise for our field of healthcare. The MRUFD initiative was spawned through recognition that orofacial problems were suffering from lack of recognition in the research arena, and that the field was suboptimally positioned to attract research funding for pursuing translational goals.

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    Visionary foundation

    The vision for MRUFD as a translational research vehicle came from four colleagues with shared beliefs in the power of teamwork and community. Two were clinicians who, as specialists in facial surgery and orthodontics, encountered bone and tooth problems on a daily basis. Both academically inclined, they foresaw that healthcare benefits would arise from improved research attention, particularly if clinical obstacles were better targeted with basic science. The other two were philanthropists who admired the Royal Children's Hospital and University of Melbourne for their collective healthcare services, education skills and research endeavours. Accepting that the then-fragmented orofacial field lacked "funding pull", they agreed to support the initiation of a "bench to bedside" project that would draw on Melbourne's strengths in research, clinical care and education. The mutually agreed priority was to improve communication between clinicians and career researchers, and to better harness the efforts of existing research pillars - in other words, to develop a translational research community in the orofacial field. Such a challenging task merited the dedicated attention of a senior academic manager, and so two major donations were made to create and later extend a Professorial Fellowship based at the Royal Children's Hospital precinct. Philosophically, this visionary plan was a pioneering example of research translation, hatched as it was during 1999-2000.

    Implementation

    To develop a research community spanning from basic science through clinical care to population health, it was desirable to engage an academic manager experienced in both biomedical science and clinical practice. Recruited from New Zealand, Mike Hubbard brought early experience as a dentist followed by a fulltime career in biomedical research. He was joined by his NZ-lab manager, Jon Mangum, who had over 3-years experience working in areas relevant to orofacial science (calcium biology, enamel cell biology, proteomics technology). Their efforts were largely turned to: (1) design and implementation of collectives to assist research translation; (2) initiating and supporting translational research projects; and (3) education and research training. Key design philosophies were to build critical mass and linkages over islands of existing expertise, to be as inclusive of small players as of big, to preserve autonomy when assembling collectives, and to educate appropriately at multiple levels. Strategically, prime focus was placed on a burgeoning dental problem that drew in many local contributors including Hubbard's group, and on molecular technologies (proteomics, metabolomics) whose power had yet to be tapped by the orofacial field. Metaphorically, Melbourne had many exciting musicians available in both these spheres - they just needed assembling into orchestras.

    Translational outcomes

    Good progress towards development of a translational research community has been made through all three of our new endeavours. Two cross-sector networks have been established, bringing multiple gains to the dental defect and proteomics/metabolomics fields regionally (i.e. Australia-NZ and State of Victoria, respectively). Through their unprecedented reaches, both these networks have strong impact potential extending from basic science through to healthcare as elaborated elsewhere (see links below). A multidisciplinary dental-research program has been advanced substantially, growing from clinical conception to mechanistic discovery and now heading into a pre-commercialisation track, thereby exposing a raft of exciting opportunities throughout. And a second showcase program, which interfaces proteomics/metabolomics technology with a mix of clinical problems from the bone/tooth arena, has been conceived and pilot studies started. Importantly this will provide a united venture for the bone and tooth themes of MRUFD. Education has proceeded across multiple levels and formats, holding importance for our networks and our research programs. Research advice has been given to many, and an increasing demand for research training (particularly for clinical trainees) is being met to the extent that resourcing allows. MRUFD has attracted a multitude of in-kind contributions, both facilitating and endorsing its strong progress. Additional funding has been received from several sources (competitive grants, trade/industry, Victorian Government, donations), directed mostly at our research and network endeavours. Although still skeletal in places, these translational initiatives are benefitting many people in the orofacial field and beyond, with network membership now numbering in the hundreds and education/website audiences larger still. Developed over 9 years by a small team, this seminal framework is now ripe for further exploitation and investment. By attracting broader input, great opportunity exists not only to advance the current initiatives but also to address other topics of orofacial importance.