Beanies to build stronger research team

May 29 2017

Paul "Chief" Harragon and Mark Hughes

The runaway success of the Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF) Beanie for Brain Cancer campaign – driven by the NRL, rugby league community, Channel Nine and other major media outlets – will take brain cancer research in Australia to a new league.

As announced last week on The NRL Footy Show, the initiative has raised an unprecedented $1.7 million in two weeks. With a prestigious Fellowship honouring Nine Network executive producer Matt Callander now fully funded by MHF, recruitment will begin shortly at the Hunter Medical Research Institute in Newcastle.

Additional funds can then be directed towards attracting a top-credentialled and active brain cancer leader from among the world’s major universities to serve as ‘captain-coach’.

“We are so grateful to the rugby league community for their support of Beanie for Brain Cancer,” MHF co-founder Mark Hughes said. “We had a budget figure in mind for the campaign, then we had a dream amount, but this has tripled our wildest expectations.

“It’s unheard of for a two-week campaign in brain cancer, because for so long it has received less research funding and maybe less public awareness compared to other cancers.”

The MHF Scientific Committee convened a special meeting this week and was unequivocal in its desire to build a bigger, better-connected research team focused on brain cancer.

“The committee comprises brain surgeons, oncologists, neuroscientists and scientific researchers and the clear message was they need boots on the ground and bodies in motion … just like in rugby league,” Mark Hughes added.

“We can start a global search for a marquee Professor from Europe or the United States and build a high-performance brain cancer team with them to truly compete and collaborate on the world stage. We could never afford to do that before.”

Scientific committee chairman Professor Stephen Ackland said the new Fellowship and leadership role would build on the partnership forged between the Hunter Medical Research Institute cancer team and Sydney Neuro-Oncology Group, who are also linking with universities in Melbourne and Brisbane. It would help patients right across Australia.

“There’s known to be a significant impact on survival statistics when you have an elite team working together at the coalface. At the same time, it accelerates the implementation of research,” Professor Ackland said.

“Every brain cancer is different, and every prognosis is different, so more doctors and more scientists are needed to identify all the unique features of each cancer, with a long-term goal of personalising treatment for individual patients.

“It’s so important because there’s no way to detect brain cancer early and the long-term survival rates are still too high. But the classification of brain cancers has improved radically in the last 12 months, and the flow-on will be finding radical new changes in treatments.”

Mark Hughes Foundation Beanie for Brain Cancer Week 2017 will take place June 19-23.