Generous gift fires up engineering innovation in healthcare

A major donation to the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Neural Engineering (CfNE) provides critical funds to advance links between life sciences, engineering and physical sciences and drive the next wave of medical breakthroughs in Australia.

Mr Leigh Clifford AO, Mrs Sue Clifford Mr Leigh Clifford AO, Mrs Sue Clifford and their family donated $5 million to the University in 2015 to endow The Clifford Chair in Neural Engineering.

The Chair helps facilitate the development of new medical point of care devices, providing clinicians with the information they require to undertake faster, more reliable diagnoses and better management of patients especially those located in Indigenous and rural communities.

It will also work across a number of disciplines to deliver new biotechnologies, treatments and improved engineered systems that replicate biological networks.

Mr Clifford, the current Chairman of Qantas Ltd and former CEO of Rio Tinto, is an engineering alumnus from the University and Deputy Chairman of Believe – the Campaign for the University of Melbourne.

He supports new and innovative engineering, as he believes this will drive Australia’s future, particularly in the area of healthcare.

"The Chair will bring together researchers and experts from Engineering, Medicine and Science to improve health outcomes for every Australian, not just those living in major metropolitan cities," Mr Clifford said.

"The gift will allow researchers to concentrate on progressing their pioneering and collaborative work ensuring people across Australia, and the region, have equitable access to healthcare.

"The idea of small, low cost and easy to use devices for the best patient management is only one example of what is possible in the future."

The CfNE is a cross-disciplinary research and development centre with a focus on the world-wide convergence of the engineering, physical and the life sciences. Through the Centre, potential treatments for conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and spinal injuries are being researched and developed.

Professor Stan Skafidas, Director of the Centre is inspired by the long history of innovative research conducted at the University and is passionate about the interface between engineering, medicine and the future.

"This gift will enable us to address some of the long term and complex challenges facing health care," he said.

"Bringing together interdisciplinary teams allows them to build technologies that will change lives and help dictate the future of healthcare.

"It will also help CfNE in our work towards addressing some of the major challenges in neuroscience and neurological and psychiatric disorders.

"This is an exciting challenge as we work together to create not only portable diagnostic tools, but the next generation of bionic devices and implants."

Professor Glyn Davis AC, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, said the establishment of the Chair was great recognition for the Centre’s work, and will enhance its role in the Melbourne precinct, where over 10,000 researchers from all disciplines are working together to resolve the great health challenges.

"In the long-term, this gift is enabling the collaboration required to alleviate some key issues related to healthcare access and equity," he said.

"The Cliffords join over 18,000 donors who have contributed to our ability to educate tomorrow’s leaders, to meet the world's great challenges via research and teaching and deepen our engagement with the local and global communities we serve.

"On a personal note, I would add my thanks to Sue and Leigh for their unwavering support of the University and the Campaign. It has been, and remains, a great pleasure to work with the Cliffords."

Image: Clifford Chair in Neural Engineering Professor Stan Skafidas and Associate Professor Mirella Dottori.