Thursday, May 23, 2013

Top Australian brain surgeon makes appeal to Congress

A leading Australian brain surgeon has travelled to Washington to lobby Congress to help fund his plan for a brain cancer cure within 10 years.

Dr Charlie Teo told Congressional representatives and advisers that the devastating disease costs the economies of Australia and the United States billions of dollars every year.

Money is tight in Washington as mandatory cuts to government spending are starting to bite.

But the Australian surgeon says he had a receptive audience, as Brendan Trembath reports from Washington.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Last month the US president Barack Obama announced a $100 million plan to map the brain.

The Australian neurosurgeon Charlie Teo hopes it will help advance the treatment of brain cancer.

He's gone to Washington to speak to the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus.

CHARLIE TEO: Well I was invited to present a White Paper to the US Congress on the importance of funding brain cancer research.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: How hopeful are you that there might be some money about? It's a tough time for the US economy and the Congress is deadlocked.

CHARLIE TEO: They were very honest about that, actually, they did mention that it's tough times. But I don't know if they're just talking the talk, but they did say all the things that I wanted them to say, and that is that they felt that mapping the human brain and understanding the human brain was a frontier that really should have been explored centuries ago.

They have of course, as you know, sent people to the moon, they've explored the deepest oceans of the planet, and yet they haven't even explored probably our most powerful resource, the human brain.

So they said all the right things. And they also mentioned that in studying the human brain, one must study the diseases of the brain, and that's exactly what I want to try and impress upon them. It's useless just studying the brain without understanding the things that make it work and the things that make it don't work. And one of those things that's very important to me - and I think should be important to the world - is the study of brain cancer.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: How prevalent is brain cancer in the world?

CHARLIE TEO: Again, I tried to make that clear to them, that it's not a disease of developing nations, it's not a disease that's unique to one continent. It is unfortunately a very universal problem; it's a public health problem because it's increasing in frequency.

It's also a public health problem because it costs all nations so much money.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Associate professor Teo came to Capitol Hill with a leading researcher.

Kuldip Sidhu is professor of stem cell research at the University of New South Wales and the newly-elected president of America's Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics.

KULDIP SIDHU: This particular topic is quite commonly discussed here, and we found that our audience in the US Congress was quite educated in terms of what we were talking about.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: What's the timeline for mapping the brain?

KULDIP SIDHU: That's a good question. I think this is like asking "can you count the number of stars in the sky?" As I said in my talk, there are 100 billion neurones in the human brain. Think about the complexity of talking going on between the cells within the brain. It's a very, very complex system.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Next year Australia hosts the World Congress for Brain Mapping. Hundreds of specialists in the field will meet in Sydney.

This is Brendan Trembath in Washington for Saturday AM. 

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