Wellington Surgeon wins Medicines New Zealand Award for Research

Dr Swee Tan has scooped the Medicines New Zealand 2014 Value of Medicines Award for his outstanding work treating newborn babies suffering from disfiguring and life-threatening strawberry birthmarks.

Dr Tan is executive director of the Wellington-based Gillies McIndoe Research Institute (GMRI), and consultant plastic and cranio-maxillofacial surgeon at Hutt Valley District Health Board.

Medicines New Zealand’s $20,000 award aims to stimulate research and advance understanding, effectiveness or safety of the use of medicines or vaccines. Work nominated for the award must be of direct relevance to the current or future provision of healthcare in New Zealand.

Hon Heather Roy, Chair of Medicines New Zealand said: “Dr Tan’s work is an exemplary piece of medical research and is precisely the type of nomination we look for in the Value of Medicines Award.

Dr Tan’s team found that strawberry birthmarks are caused by stem cells regulated by a hormone system. Their discoveries underscore the new treatment that leads to dramatic shrinkage of strawberry birthmarks within months, negating the need for the traditional treatment using high-dose steroids, and lengthy and complicated surgery over several years.

The GMRI’s ground-breaking research into, and discoveries of, strawberry birthmarks has potentially enormous implications for the treatment of other tumours, including cancer.

“It is an honour to be recognised with this prestigious award,” Dr Tan said.

“However, the real tributes should go to all the brave children and their families whose lives have been so affected by this condition. Credit also goes to the team at the GMRI and all my colleagues in the medical and science communities who have been involved in this quest to find a better way to manage this tumour.”

Dr Tan says the $20,000 funding associated with the award will be used for furthering research into cancer at the GMRI, building on current work.

Mrs Roy continued, “New Zealand is home to a wealth of medical knowledge and expertise which deserves to be celebrated. Through this award we are shining a light on the research-heroes who are advancing medicines and vaccines that can improve the health of New Zealanders and potentially save lives.

“Dr Tan’s outstanding and tireless research into the treatment of problematic strawberry birthmarks in babies met all the criteria for the award and it is with the greatest pleasure that we are able to celebrate with him in the success of his work.”

Friends and colleagues of Dr Swee Tan will gather at Parliament this evening (Monday 10 November) to see him presented the Value of Medicines Award by the Hon Peter Dunne.