IT IS the $7.5 million gift that Mark Hughes hopes will help take brain cancer research to the next level.
Ahead of the 2021 NRL Beanie for Brain Cancer Round, the Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF) has pledged a $7.5 million, five-year philanthropic commitment to the University of Newcastle to help find better treatments for brain cancer, quickly.
Former Newcastle Knights player Mark Hughes established the foundation with his wife, Kirralee, in 2014 after his own battle with a high grade brain cancer.
The father-of-three believes a cure for the disease can be found in his hometown.
"We are joining forces with Newcastle University, and it's going to be game-changing for brain cancer across Australia, and really, across the world in our view," Hughes told the Newcastle Herald. "Newcastle Uni has a wonderful reputation, local - but world class. We explored other options, but this was the best fit for us.
"Over the next couple of months we will be headhunting the best of the best in brain cancer to lead our already great team. This person will be at the top of their field, and they will be in charge of developing, nurturing, inspiring and using their knowledge to accelerate our efforts in finding a cure for brain cancer."
Hughes said brain cancer was "tearing families apart in their prime".
"Brain cancer is such a tough nut to crack. We need the best of the best, we need to collaborate, and we need to be efficient so we can get these answers quickly," he said. "Now, we're going to have the opportunity to really give this a proper shake."
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In the past five years, the NRL Beanie For Brain Cancer Round has raised close to $11 million. Since its inception, the Mark Hughes Foundation has raised more than $20 million.
Hughes said this $7.5 million funding commitment would help establish a brain cancer team at the University of Newcastle to build on their work with Hunter Medical Research Institute and The Brain Cancer Group.
But it was just the beginning.
"Our big goal would be to potentially build a centre for excellence for brain cancer," Hughes said.
"We are aiming really big, and we are going to be asking for some help from government and large corporations because we see that over the next 10 years, we'll need to invest potentially $25 million into this. It is very exciting, but we're not going to be able to do it just by selling beanies. We need government funding, and corporate support too. There is no cure for brain cancer, and the stats are that brain cancer kills more people 40 and under than any other disease.
"I need to find an answer, and so many other people need to find an answer, and we can't wait around forever for it. So we are going to bring in the best."
The $7.5 million commitment was a solemn reminder that treatments for brain cancer have shown little progress over the past 30 years. Each year around 1600 Australians are diagnosed with brain cancer, and around 1200 die.
"I get a scan every four months," Hughes said.
"I'm blessed and excited for the future, but also aware that brain cancer is very tough. Things can change really quickly in this disease. And for so many other out there relying on the Mark Hughes Foundation, we are giving them hope. I can't wait to deliver this type of news so they know we are serious in getting to the crux of this problem."
Jillian Crawley, whose husband Jason is currently undergoing treatment for grade three brain cancer, said "hope was everything" after a diagnosis.
"To get that news, is devastating," Mrs Crawley, of Ashtonfield, said. "Hope is all you've got. We hope that one day there will be a cure. All we have at the moment is radiation and chemo, and we just hope it works. The more research they do, the closer to a cure we will get."
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 was 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."
The University of Newcastle brain cancer team would 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.
University of Newcastle's Professor Brian Kelly said in recruiting the "Mark Hughes Foundation Chair in Brain Cancer", the university would be looking for both a "cutting-edge researcher" and a "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."
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