At the anniversary celebration of Children’s Cancer Institute, Executive Director Professor Michelle Haber AM reflected on the journey to one day curing children’s cancer.

“Good evening and welcome to the Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, our founders Jack Kasses OAM and John Lough OAM, the Honourable Matt Thistlethwaite MP, Ladies Committee members, Apex Club members (especially those involved in helping to found this organisation), ladies and gentlemen.

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the founding of the Institute. This very special event is an opportunity to thank you, our loyal long-standing supporters, for the 40 years of progress we have made towards one day curing every child with cancer.

Where it all started

In 1975, Jack and Annette Kasses and John and Margaret Lough each had a child diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. At the time, the only place in Australia treating children for cancer was a converted military hut here in Sydney at Prince of Wales Hospital, just up the road. The survival rates at that time for children with cancer were less than 50%; Jack’s daughter Helen survived, but sadly John’s son Robbie died of his disease.

Jack and John decided these statistics were not good enough and were determined to change this dismal outcome. They decided Australia needed dedicated research to identify improved treatments for all children with cancer. Their commitment, dedication and vision are our foundation story. Their tireless effort in fundraising with The Apex Foundation generated over $1.3M in the first year of the ‘Help a Kid Make It’ campaign, an amount that today is the equivalent of $7.8M. Truly remarkable!

These funds were used by our founding organisation, The Children’s Leukaemia and Cancer Foundation, which started off in Jack and Annette’s living room in Coogee, to build and then to open in 1984 our own laboratories. Named at that time as the Children’s Leukaemia and Cancer Research Unit, the forerunner of today’s Children’s Cancer Institute.

First researchers

I was very privileged to start working at the fledgling Institute as the inaugural post-doc under the supervision of Professor Bernard Stewart, along with two other scientists, Murray Norris, then a PhD student and Maria Kavallaris, then a pathology technician. As they say, “that was the start of a beautiful friendship” as Maria, Murray and I, together with Glenn Marshall who joined us a few years later, discovered that we shared a mutual passion to work towards one day curing children’s cancer, that persists through to today.

When the laboratories of Children’s Cancer Institute opened 32 years ago, the idea that we would one day contribute directly to curing childhood cancer was just a hope and an aspiration. Today, 8 out of 10 children survive their cancer and it is medical research that has made this difference; and it’s because of the dream, the contribution and the commitment of Jack, John and so many other parents and supporters that Children’s Cancer Institute has been able to be part of this success story.

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