Cancer researchers named Australian of the Year finalists


By Geir O'Rourke

15 Nov 2023

Professors Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer have been named NSW’s 2024 Australians of the Year, in tribute to an “enduring partnership has saved thousands of lives from melanoma, known as Australia’s national cancer”.

The accolade is the latest in a string of honours for the co-medical directors of Melanoma Institute Australia and comes less than six months after Professor Scolyer, 56, was diagnosed with incurable grade 4 glioblastoma.

Professors Scolyer and Long

The award citation singles out Professor Scolyer’s willingness to become a “human guinea pig” in response to the diagnosis, after he and Professor Long developed a series of world-first treatments based on their melanoma breakthroughs.

“Richard became the world’s first brain cancer patient to have pre-surgery combination immunotherapy,” it says.

“By undertaking an experimental treatment with risk of shortening his life, he has advanced the understanding of brain cancer and is benefiting future patients.”

“Richard has generated widespread public interest by publicly documenting his own cancer treatment and progress.”

Read how Professors Scolyer and Long are responding to his brain diagnosis here

It’s not the only recognition the pair have received in recent weeks, with Professor Long accepting the 2023 ESMO Women for Oncology Award just last month.

Earlier in October, Professor Scolyer was granted the American Society of Dermopathology Founders Award, while he also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Melanoma Research back in August.

Despite the accolades, he remains characteristically humble.

“Realistically, any success that I have had had as an individual to be recognised like this is just a reflection of the incredible research, care of patients and education of the community that our team has done,” he said on receiving the latter.

“I think we have built an incredible multi-disciplinary team that works together and none of us could achieve nearly as much as what we have done and had such a big impact for melanoma patients if we hadn’t worked together so collaboratively.”

“This award is just a reflection of the great team we have at Melanoma Institute Australia.”

Meanwhile, the NSW Young Australian of the Year was named as 30-year-old medical student, cancer survivor and disability advocate, Nikhil Autar.

“Diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 17, Nikhil Autar has undergone chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, open heart surgery and survives a life-threatening chronic illness,” the award citation said.

“As a cancer survivor who understands the importance of access for people with disability, Nikhil created Knia Maps – ‘Know In Advance Maps’ – which has plotted accessibility at major Sydney hospitals, universities, public venues and transport, plus hundreds of small businesses.”

Nikhil Autar

“Nikhil also founded Bheem Health, a social enterprise that provides low-cost medical devices for sick and vulnerable people.”

“His first device, BheemUP, allows any bed to convert into a hospital bed. He’s now developing BheemSense, the world’s first sensor mat that tracks sleep phases and helps minimise pressure sores.”

“Medical student Nikhil has raised almost $500,000 in grant funding and conducted cancer research.”

“A blogger, disability advocate and motivational speaker, his diverse and inclusive hiring practices have given migrants, people with disabilities and student engineers their first jobs.”

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