Melanoma researchers named joint 2024 Australian of the Year

Cancer researchers named Australians of the Year for 2024

Two scientists who developed a treatment for incurable melanoma – and are now trying to “crack” another deadly cancer – have been named joint Australians of the Year.

The partnership between Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer has saved thousands of lives and given Australians a fighting chance against melanoma, known as the nation’s cancer.

In less than a decade, advanced melanoma went from being fatal to a curable disease due to pioneering work in activating patients’ immune systems.

The co-medical directors of Melanoma Institute Australia have been at the forefront of public education on sun-smart behaviour and skin cancer prevention.

Now the good friends are using their knowledge to find a way to cure brain cancer as Scolyer fights the fatal illness.

He was diagnosed with incurable grade-four brain cancer in June 2023.

Scolyer and Long are experimenting with a series of world-first treatments for brain cancer based on their melanoma breakthroughs.

By undertaking an experimental treatment at the risk of shortening his life, Scolyer has advanced the understanding of brain cancer and is benefiting future patients.

He has generated public interest by publicly documenting his cancer treatment and progress.

‘Don’t want to die’

Accepting the award at a ceremony in Canberra on Thursday night, Scolyer spoke emotionally about the sentence hanging over him.

“I stand here tonight as a terminal brain cancer patient. I’m only 57 — I don’t want to die,” he said.

“I love my life, my family, my work. I’ve so much more to do and to give. I’m one of the many thousands of cancer patients who’ve travelled this path, and thousands will follow.

“Devising this world-first experimental treatment for my type of brain cancer was bold. For me, the decision to take on Georgina’s ground-breaking plan was a no-brainer.

“Here was an opportunity for us to crack another incurable cancer and make a difference — if not for me, then for others.”

Scolyer said despite his terminal diagnosis, “we do not let fear hold us back”.

“From where I stand, with the future now measured in months rather than decades, it’s impossible for me to properly articulate how proud and hopeful that this also makes me.”

Sun safety

Long and Scolyer are urging a radical rethink of sun safety and tanning after being named joint Australians of the Year.

“Our bronze Aussie culture is actually killing us, so we call on advertisers and social media influences stop glamorising tanning or using it to sell or advertise for entertainment,” Long said.

The pioneering scientists challenged people to imagine the outcry if smoking was glamorised in the same way as tanning.

“We must elevate sun safety to equal status with other life-saving safety measures like wearing a seatbelt or a helmet,” Scolyer said.

“We stand here tonight proudly representing every melanoma patient and their families,” Scolyer said.

“Our thoughts are always with those families where our breakthrough treatments came too late,” Long said.

“We are forever indebted to your loved ones, and all our patients for their selfless commitment to research, which has changed the futures for others.

“That is Aussie mateship at its very best.”

Scolyer and Long have been friends and colleagues for a decade.

Scolyer introduced Long to triathlons and they have travelled the world together, participating in championships and representing Melanoma Institute Australia.

National Australia Day Council chair John Foreman said the impact of their world-leading research would be felt by countless people.

“Georgina and Richard are leading work which is saving countless lives now and, thanks also to the personal commitment of Richard, will lead to an even more extraordinary impact on the health of people around the world in the future,” he said.

Earlier, Olympic champion swimmer Emma McKeon was awarded Young Australian of the Year, retired Indigenous teacher Yalmay Yunupingu was named Senior Australian of the Year and dinosaur pioneer David Elliott took out the Local Hero award.

-with AAP

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