Dr Tan’s career

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Dr Swee Tan was appointed as a consultant plastic surgeon at Hutt Hospital at the end of 1995, having completed a research fellowship with Professor John Mulliken at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.



Dr Tan, with the assistance of Dr Trevor FitzJohn, established the Centre for the Study & Treatment of Vascular Birthmarks, a national referral centre. Dr Tan assembled a multidisciplinary clinical team to treat patients and a research team to find the cause of vascular birthmarks. Not satisfied with the available treatment for strawberry birthmarks, Dr Tan registered to do a part-time PhD at the University of Otago with Dr Paul Davis, senior scientist at the Wellington School of Medicine, as his supervisor. Dr Tan believed that more effective treatment could only be found by better understanding the biology of this tumour.



Dr Tan and Dr Davis discovered a gene responsible for the steroid-induced regression of strawberry birthmarks. That same year they discovered another gene responsible for spontaneous regression of this tumour and published in an international journal the laboratory model they had developed to grow a strawberry birthmark in the laboratory (a world first).



Dr Tan was awarded a PhD by the University of Otago for his work in strawberry birthmarks.



In 2004, as a result of the international recognition of his work, Dr Tan, with the assistance of Dr FitzJohn, Dr Davis and Dr Helen Brasch (a pathologist at Hutt Hospital and a member of the research team), hosted the International Congress of Vascular Anomalies. The research team continued their research into vascular birthmarks, particularly strawberry birthmarks, which resulted in: over 116 publications in peer-reviewed journals; 6 book chapters; over 300 presentations in national and international conferences; and 20 prizes and 23 honours and awards.



Since 2010, Dr Tan and his team at the GMRI have achieved the following:

  • Created a new field of research – the involvement of stem cells regulated by the renin-angiotensin system in the biology of strawberry birthmark, a vascular tumour.
  • Successfully completed the world’s first clinical trial using captopril, based on their new research paradigm.
  • Won the following international prizes: the 2010 John Mulliken Prize; the 2011 International Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery Prize for best basic science paper; the 2012 Emmett Prize; and the 2013 National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia Conference Education Award; and the 2014 Australian and New Zealand Head and Neck Cancer Society Research Foundation Prize.
  • 52 publications in peer-reviewed journals with five appearing on the front cover of the respective journals, two being the editors’ choice and two others selected for discussions by the editors because of their significance.
  • 6 book chapters.
  • 85 presentations in international conferences.
  • 3 international patents filed.
  • 16 honours/awards.
  • 9 prizes and medical and scientific meetings.



Dr Tan and his team opened the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute in Wellington, New Zealand.