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The Institute itself was born out of philanthropy. After the sale of his freight-trucking business, Mr Greg Poche AO identified Melanoma Institute Australia as a worthy organisation making a big difference. When Mr Poche announced his decision in 2005, it represented the largest-ever donation by an Australian philanthropist to a single cause.

That donation enabled the establishment of the remarkable Poche Centre, located next to North Sydney’s Mater Hospital – a world-class facility for melanoma research and education as well as for the treatment and care of patients. After operating for nearly half-a-century as the ‘Sydney Melanoma Unit’, MIA was incorporated into the Poche Centre in 2008 to undertake research, run clinical trials and provide care to melanoma patients throughout Australia. It’s the only institute in the country that focuses on a single cancer.

In February 2019, a team of MIA researchers published ground-breaking research that identified markers of response and resistance in metastatic melanoma patients. (‘Metastatic’ refers to an advanced stage of melanoma in which the disease has spread to other parts of the body.)

This is the first time researchers have been able to pinpoint specific cells and receptors in the immune system that predict how a patient will respond to treatment with immunotherapies. Down the track, this capability could pave the way for the development of personalised therapies for all individuals experiencing cancer.

MIA’s CEO, Matthew Browne, calls the research “true innovation”, but emphasises that the reality behind such break-throughs is years of painstaking work by Clinical Researchers and their Fellows and PhD students. Furthermore, he reminds us, just because people aren’t shouting ‘eureka’ elsewhere doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of other very valuable work going on – “it’s just one of the many projects that our researchers are working on at MIA everyday.”

Matthew is also constantly mindful of another pressing reality – that “this work is only possible when we can secure funding for our Research Fellowships , so that they have the financial support to explore and test their ideas.”

Yet Matthew says he’s not talking about millions of dollars of investment: “There are a number of options available to philanthropists. They can fund a Fellow here at MIA for between $120,000 and $150,000 a year. PhD students also provide invaluable support to MIA Fellows and need support in the region of $10,000 to $30,000 each year.”

The more Fellowship funding available, the more Research Fellowships MIA is able to offer in all of the disciplines required for MIA to achieve its goal of zero deaths from melanoma. MIA’s Co-Medical Directors, Professors Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer, are certain that this goal will be achieved in our lifetime. Matthew concludes “this would truly be a remarkable day for all Australians.”

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Photo: MIA Co-Medical Directors Professor Georgina Long AO and Professor Richard Scolyer AO.

This article was published August 2019