What health and medical research is
Health and medical research is the systematic collection and analysis of information to better understand health issues or questions.
There are many types of health and medical research. This includes health studies of a population over many years, clinical trials and studies and data analysis.
Australian health and medical research is among the best in the world. Our achievements are many. They include our role in the development of penicillin as an antibiotic, and breakthroughs such as the bionic ear, greyscale ultrasound imaging, spray-on skin, and the cervical cancer vaccine.
Clinical trials are research investigations where people volunteer to test new treatments, interventions or tests. This is done to help prevent, detect, treat or manage various diseases or medical conditions.
Learn more about clinical trials.
Why clinical trials are important
Clinical trials are important because they help find out whether treatments, interventions or tests are safe and effective. They also advance medical knowledge, which leads to better health outcomes for patients.
How clinical trials are regulated
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulates access to ‘unapproved’ therapeutic goods in clinical trials. This is through the Clinical Trial Approval (CTA) scheme and Clinical Trial Notification (CTN) scheme. The TGA is also responsible for the Good Clinical Practice (GCP) inspection program.
Learn more about the TGA’s role in the Australian clinical trial handbook.
The CTN or CTA schemes are for clinical trials that involve unapproved therapeutic goods. Other clinical trials don’t require them. The Australian clinical trial sponsor is responsible for determining if a product is an unapproved therapeutic good.
Australian Clinical Trials has more information for consumers, providers, researchers and industry.
Clinical trials are governed by laws and guidelines. The Australian Government, state and territory governments, institutions and private organisations all have responsibilities.
Learn more about laws covering clinical trials in Australia.
Why health and medical research is important
Health and medical research advances knowledge about human health. This leads to better health care for Australians. Research also helps to support health policies and even contributes to the Australian economy.
Any research that involves humans, or needs personal information, should follow guidance in the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.
This includes requirements for Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) approval. HRECs review human research before it can start, to ensure it is ethically sound.
State and territory governments regulate animal welfare. This includes animals used in research.
Learn more about ethics and integrity in research on the NHRMC website.
Laws and regulations
Many laws and regulations can affect health research. These include the national:
States and territories have the main responsibility for health care and hospitals. They make laws and regulations that control how research is conducted.
Learn more about other laws and regulations that might affect research.
Some diseases or substances used in health and medical research could be used as biological weapons. If harmful agents are released, they can greatly affect humans, our environment and economy. Therefore, we regulate these substances. We have a Security Sensitive Biological Agents Regulatory Scheme to limit opportunities for bioterrorism.
Gene technology can be part of health and medical research. The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator regulates genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Australia.
The National Gene Technology Scheme identifies and manages risks that gene technology and GMOs might create for people and our environment.
The Australian Government funds health and medical research through:
Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF)
National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)
Biomedical Translation Fund
The MRFF is a research fund set up by the Australian Government in 2015. In July 2020, it grew to $20 billion. The net interest from the fund pays for important health and medical research projects.
One area the MRFF funds is research into antimicrobial resistance, one of the biggest threats to human and animal health today.
The NHMRC is an independent statutory agency. It supports health and medical research and getting this used in policy and practice.
Its main role is to:
fund health and medical research
provide health advice to the Australian Government
contribute to ethical research policy in Australia.
In particular, the NHMRC offers grants for clinical trials and cohort studies. The aim of this is research that improves health and wellbeing, healthcare practice or policy.
Biomedical Translation Fund
The Biomedical Translation Fund invests in companies to help them turn medical research into products and services.
Learn more about funding
See more about Australia’s health status and medical research and funding in the AIHW Australia's health report.
Learn more about our role in health and medical research.