$3.9m for Australia’s first Chair of head and neck cancer surgery

Family foundation gift allows University of Sydney in partnership with Chris O’Brien Lifehouse to establish inaugural Lang Walker Family Foundation Chair in Head and Neck Cancer Reconstructive Surgery.

The Lang Walker Family Foundation has donated $3.9 million to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, a comprehensive cancer hospital based in Sydney, to establish Australia’s first Professorial Chair in head and neck cancer surgery. The gift is one of the largest made to head and neck cancer in the world.

The Chair is in partnership with the University of Sydney and has the immediate potential to improve outcomes for people with head and neck cancer. It will enable Chris O’Brien Lifehouse to invest in the latest 3D printing and virtual surgical planning technology as well as accelerate research and innovation, giving patients access to life-changing breakthroughs.

Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and the University of Sydney today announced the appointment of Professor Jonathan Clark AM, a head and neck surgeon and the director of head and neck cancer research at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, as the inaugural Lang Walker Family Foundation Chair in Head and Neck Cancer Reconstructive Surgery.

Lang Walker AO, Executive Chairman of Walker Group said, “My family and I are proud to have been actively involved with Chris O’Brien Lifehouse since its inception and we have been impressed with its achievements in such a short time. Given our ongoing commitment to health and medical research in Sydney, it made sense to further our philanthropic investment into a centre that is an international leader in innovation and improving outcomes for patients with cancers of the head and neck.”

Professor Jonathan Clark from the University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health said, “Head and neck cancer and its surgery can’t be hidden – patients wear this on their faces. It affects their ability to communicate, eat in public, breathe, see and hear, which can lead to social isolation, inability to work, depression and anxiety.

“This incredibly generous gift will allow us to develop our own in-house capability for digital surgical planning and printing for facial reconstructive surgery. And it will enable a program of research that will push the boundaries of technology and ultimately transform outcomes for patients with this devastating cancer.”

Head and neck cancer is a group of rare cancers located in the structures of the head and neck, such as the nasal cavity, mouth and throat. They are among the most complex, debilitating and aggressive forms of cancer. The cancer itself and the surgery can leave the patient highly disfigured. According to Cancer Australia statistics, an estimated 5,212 cases were expected to be diagnosed last year.

3D printed implants for neck and head surgery displayed on a table.,3D printed implants for neck and head surgery displayed on a table.
3D printed implants for neck and head surgery.

To achieve optimal results, surgeons must be able to restore both form and function. They may need to replace bone and restore internal and external soft tissue. Traditionally, surgeons would take replacement bone from the fibula in the lower leg and manually shape it for implant into the face, a process that could take months in planning and preparation.

Having advanced 3D printing and surgical planning technology on site at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse will cut that down to a matter of days, removing the guesswork and allowing the surgeons to construct a precise, symmetrical and personalised implant.

“This gift allows us to give patients the best aesthetic and functional results possible,” Professor Clark said. “We will be able to stay at the forefront of facial reconstruction and our patients will benefit from new surgical techniques and technologies as they emerge.”

NSW Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women, Bronnie Taylor, welcomed the investment and said it would enable the service to have an even wider reach, “This generous funding will improve outcomes for people living with these extremely complex cancers – no matter where they live. As a former cancer nurse, I have seen first-hand what a catastrophic impact head and neck cancer can have on someone’s quality of life.”

Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney, Professor Robyn Ward said, “A great deal more research and education is needed on head and neck cancer so the University of Sydney welcomes this opportunity to partner with Chris O`Brien Lifehouse to further research that will help patients with these often-debilitating cancers. It’s wonderful that the Walker Family Foundation has recognised the need and taken positive steps to improve outcomes for patients.”

“Head and neck cancers suffer from a low level of awareness and funding due to the stigma that is often attached,” Professor Clark said.

“This significant philanthropic investment from the Walker Family Foundation is not only unparalleled but a visionary step forward in the treatment of head and neck cancer. This research will not only benefit patients with cancers of the head and neck, but significantly advance all applications of complex facial reconstructive surgery.”

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