$4 million gift announcements launch critical research campaign

20 September 2013

Two Dames, seven Knights including two All Black Knights, the University of Auckland Chamber Choir chorales and many exciting gift announcements were all part of a gala cocktail evening held this week to launch a campaign for an inaugural Chair in Neurosurgery in Auckland. This visionary new campaign, kick-started with donations totalling $4.5 million, was launched at Shed 10 on Auckland’s Queen’s Wharf and was attended by more than 400 people.

The director of the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brian Research, Distinguished Professor Richard Faull, announced that a generous gift of $2 million from the Freemasons of New Zealand had been pivotal in the campaign initiative to establish the Chair. The position  would be named “The Freemasons Chair of Neurosurgery at the University of Auckland” in recognition of their contribution.

Mark Winger, speaking on behalf of the Freemasons said, “We are delighted to have enjoyed a relationship with Professor Richard Faull for nigh on 15 years – facilitating brain research into Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s and associated afflictions. Our support for the Centre of Brain Research is well founded, and so it was a logical step for our support to extend to the Chair of Neurosurgery.”

A further generous gift of $1 million from the Douglas Charitable Trust (Sir Graham Douglas) has secured the appointment of a Senior Neurosurgical Research Fellow and $500,000 from the David Levene Foundation (Sir David Levene) has resulted in substantial progress towards the goal of $8 million to fund the Chair in perpetuity.

“We’re thrilled that we are able to launch with the announcement of these remarkable gifts, we’re over halfway there already,” says Professor Faull.

“We want to attract a first class neurosurgeon with an international reputation, who is also a first class researcher, in order to provide a bridge between University of Auckland brain researchers and the top class neurosurgeons at Starship and Auckland Hospitals,” says Professor Faull.

“The Auckland District Health Board has generously recognised the need for more brain surgery at Auckland and has created and funded a new half-time appointment.  The first five years of the other half salary has been funded by The University of Auckland and the Aotearoa Foundation from Sir Julian Robertson in New York.

“We now need to raise the funds to ensure the new unit is established and funded in perpetuity,” he adds.  “We are creating an endowment, which the University of Auckland will invest, and the interest generated will be used to fund the neurosurgery chair and research into the future.”

At present Auckland has six neurosurgeons who are fully employed on call on a 24-hour roster led by the head of neurosurgery, Edward Mee.  This team does 1500 brain surgery operations each year - an average of 30 per week - including paediatric surgery at Starship Hospital.

“Auckland is already recognised as a centre of excellence for brain surgery in New Zealand,” says Professor Faull.  “Our surgeons work around the clock performing life-saving operations on patients with tumours, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, brain haemorrhages and traumatic brain injuries from sport, road accidents and other causes, as well as spinal cord injuries.

“We want to extend this work and ensure strong linkages, forming a virtual bridge across Park Road between brain researchers from the CBR at the University and Auckland City and Starship hospitals, so that vital brain research can continue in tandem with an increased capacity for brain surgery,” he adds.  “Whenever we do brain research, we have the potential to increase the level of patient care.”

Professor Faull says there are existing research links with brain surgeons and some very productive research projects have already been established, for example in epilepsy. Young people who have brain surgery for severe epilepsy can benefit from having a temporal lobectomy, removing the area where the seizures originate.  Before the lobectomy, they were having multiple daily seizures which were poorly controlled by drugs.

“There has been an incredible recovery rate with carefully selected patients who are now seizure-free and show minimal deficits from the surgery,” he says. “Part of the removed brain tissue is used for CBR research, with the patients’ consent, and part of it goes to pathology.

“We now have 20 years of research papers from this on-going work, which help us to understand what happens in the epileptic brain, and the tissue we receive is used for research and to grow brain cells in our bio bank for further laboratory research and drug testing.”

The Centre for Brain Research already has an international reputation for progress in its research into diseases such as alzheimers, epilepsy, Parkinsons, Huntingdon’s, motor neurone disease, schizophrenia and other brain diseases, which can affect all ages.

“We have enormous expertise from a myriad of scientists, which covers more than 55 research groups across the University of Auckland, and we work closely with the community to ensure our research findings are used to help people who are suffering from brain diseases,” says Professor Faull.  “We have the capacity to extend this world class research for the good of New Zealanders.”