Medical pioneers honoured at the GMRI

Gillies and McIndoe function

A number of special guests, including the Minister of Health, the Hon. Dr Jonathan Coleman, attended the Sir Harold Delf Gillies and Sir Archibald McIndoe portrait unveiling

The ground-breaking work of internationally-recognised New Zealanders and pioneers of plastic surgery, Sir Harold Delf Gillies and Sir Archibald McIndoe, was recognised at a function hosted by the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute, at which the Minister of Health, the Hon. Dr Jonathan Coleman, unveiled specially-prepared portraits of the two men.

Over 80 guests attended the occasion, which was held next to the GMRI’s premises in Newtown, Wellington.

As well as the Minister, special guests included members of the Gillies and McIndoe families, the President of the NZ Association of Plastic Surgeons, Dr Sally Langley, and Dr Michael Klaassen, a fellow plastic surgeon, historian and colleague of Dr Swee Tan, Executive Director and Founder of the GMRI. It was Dr Klaassen who sourced copies of the portraits from an archive in London.

Dr Swee Tan told guests that the GMRI exists to find better ways to relieve human suffering of those afflicted by life-threatening and disfiguring conditions.

“This was exactly what motivated Sir Harold and Sir Archibald when they began their ground-breaking work in the early part of the 20th century,” Dr Tan said.

“We are honoured to follow in their footsteps. We stand on their shoulders, allowing us to look further, and we are privileged to hang their portraits in our research facility. They will be a daily reminder of their remarkable success and the importance of the work we are doing.”

At the function Dr Tan briefed guests on the GMRI’s pioneering cancer research work and referred to several breakthroughs that he and his team hope to announce in the near future.

“We are very pleased with the progress we are making to find treatments for cancer based on our radical concept of cancer stem cells, controlled by a common in-built regulatory system. We are looking forward to sharing our findings with the international medical research community.”

Ministry of Health statistics show cancer is the leading cause of death in New Zealand; over 29 percent of all deaths annually are attributed to cancer. Around 50 people are diagnosed with cancer in New Zealand every day and around 22 people will die from the disease.

Ministry statistics also show that over 90 percent of cancer cases diagnosed and over 95 percent of cancer mortalities in New Zealand occur in people over the age of 45, a growing segment of the population. According to Otago University research, the current annual cost of cancer treatment in New Zealand is over $850 million.

Dr Tan and the GMRI team are well known internationally for their research work, which has been labelled a paradigm shift by international experts.

Their research, based on their radical stem cells concept, has led to discoveries that underscore new, inexpensive, and effective treatment of strawberry birthmarks with beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors.

In adopting their ground-breaking approach and proposing their pioneering concepts, the GMRI team is living by the values espoused by Sir Harold Gillies and Sir Archibald McIndoe, whose unorthodox and innovative methods gave birth to plastic surgery as we know it today.