Aimed at dramatically intensifying Australia’s brain cancer research efforts, the Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF) has today announced a $7.5 million five-year philanthropic commitment to the University of Newcastle.

Announced at the official launch of the 2021 NRL Beanie for Brain Cancer Round, the commitment serves as a solemn reminder that treatments have shown little progress over the past 30 years, and better outcomes are urgently needed.

With the MHF funding commitment, the University of Newcastle will support a dedicated brain cancer team to drive critical research, education and health care improvements at a national scale for brain cancer patients, their families and carers, and health professionals. The team will be led by the inaugural Mark Hughes Foundation Chair in Brain Cancer, who will be recruited through a global search.

Mark, a former Newcastle Knights NRL player and father of three, said the establishment of a brain cancer team at the University of Newcastle would build on the work of others, including MHF partners at the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and the Brain Cancer Group, to take brain cancer research to the next level.

“This is a commitment to building a bigger team to bring help and hope to people with brain cancer and their families,” Mark said.

“Brain cancer can be an incredibly lonely experience. It’s why MHF has been so successful, because people are looking for others to connect with.

“By partnering with the University of Newcastle we are expanding the support team around every brain cancer patient, not just here, but everywhere around the world.

“We are not starting from scratch either. There’s no time. This is about taking brain cancer research to the next level and quickly."

Each year around 1,600 Australians are diagnosed with brain cancer and around 1,200 die. Formed in 2014 by Mark and Kirralee Hughes, after Mark was diagnosed with a high-grade brain cancer, MHF has played a significant part in addressing chronic underfunding of brain cancer.

University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Alex Zelinsky said the University was honoured to be given the opportunity to advance brain cancer research and education in the name of the Mark Hughes Foundation and is committed to the urgent pursuit of a cure.

“Working with the Mark Hughes Foundation is a reminder of how deeply personal and urgent this fight is,” Professor Zelinsky said.

“By establishing the Foundation, Mark has drawn attention to how prevalent brain cancer is in our region alone. We’re deeply committed to improving health outcomes in our region but we know that our discoveries and efforts don’t stop with us. What we achieve will have national and global impact.

“We’re honoured to be building on the immense community support already generated by Mark and his foundation. As a former rugby league player, Mark recognises the undeniable power of a team approach and this is exactly what we’re harnessing here - the community, the academics leading the research, the clinicians, and the patients and their families will all be crucial aspects of this new team."

The University of Newcastle brain cancer team will cover the breadth of prevention, early detection, recovery and rehabilitation, and treatments and models of care for all stages of brain cancer. The research will span all ages, but the team will seek to fill a recognised gap in adult brain cancer.

Head of School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle, Professor Brian Kelly said in recruiting the Mark Hughes Foundation Chair in Brain Cancer, the University will be looking for both a cutting-edge researcher and committed and active clinician.

“Education and clinical practice are key to understanding brain cancer and its treatment and we want our work to improve the lives of people with brain cancer straight away,” Professor Kelly said.

“This team won’t just be hidden away in a lab, they’ll also be out working with patients and their families."

Professor Kelly said the University will use the Mark Hughes Foundation gift to future-proof brain cancer research.

“There will be opportunities in the team for early career researchers and PhD candidates to become the next generation of researchers to drive us forward in this important field,” Professor Kelly said.

“To crack this disease and make a difference to the lives of people with brain cancer and their families, we need fresh ideas and the courage to pursue them. Breakthroughs can happen when new perspectives and voices are heard."

Mark Hughes thinks a cure can be found in his hometown of Newcastle.

“The University of Newcastle is recognised around the world for its research capability and the Foundation has incredible support from the Newcastle and surrounding communities,” he said.

“There’s real momentum around our cause. It seems that everyone knows someone affected by brain cancer.

“With that kind of driving force, I think this team will be unstoppable.”

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