In 1957 the association of sunlight with melanoma was highlighted by a landmark paper in the Medical Journal of Australia by Doctors Lancaster and Nelson however it was some years before the rapidly increasing incidence of melanoma became documented. Once it was, it quickly became obvious that this had specific implications for Australia because the incidence was clearly higher here than anywhere else in the world.
In the early 1960s, Professor Gerald Milton recognised the particular need for a clinical and research unit concentrating on melanoma and set up the Sydney Melanoma Clinic at Sydney Hospital. At this time, he began the collection of data about melanoma. The database became the world's largest, and now contains more than 30,000 patient records.
Professor William McCarthy, an Australian surgeon trained in medical education in the United States joined Professor Milton in the clinic in 1968. The Clinic was transferred to the Royal Prince Alfred hospital in 1983 where it became the Sydney Melanoma Unit (SMU). The Melanoma Foundation was established at the same time to ensure that funds would be available for the clinical and research programs of the unit.
At SMU, Professor Milton set up the first domiciliary service for patients, and this has become a model for other multidisciplinary cancer services. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy were quickly established with the financial assistance of The Melanoma Foundation. Professor McCarthy succeeded Professor Milton as director of the SMU in 1989. Both Professor Milton and Professor McCarthy have been recognised for their work in melanoma surgery and medical education by awards in the Order of Australia. Sadly, Professor Milton passed away in 2007.
Professor John Thompson joined the SMU and the Foundation soon after relocation to RPA. Trained in vascular surgery, transplantation, and surgical oncology, he brought a wide range of important new skills for the development of the clinical and research programs. In 1999 he succeeded Professor McCarthy as director of the SMU and greatly expanded its clinical and biological research program. Professor Thompson was also director of the Melanoma Foundation until 2009.
Throughout its history, the Foundation has funded research by clinicians and researchers including Professor Rick Kefford MB BS PhD FRACP, a world recognised melanoma geneticist, and Dr Vincent McGovern, Professor Stanley McCarthy and Dr Richard Scolyer, major contributors to understanding of the pathology of melanoma. Medical oncology was developed by Professor Alan Coates, and immunotherapy by Professor Peter Hersey. Dr Helen Shaw provided essential input until her death in 2009.
It is not possible to adequately acknowledge all those who have contributed to the success of The Melanoma Foundation. Nurses, administrative staff, clinical and biological research workers, technicians and volunteers have made major contributions.
In 2005 an unprecedented donation in excess of $40 million by philanthropist, Mr. Greg Poche, brought about the construction of a new premises for the Sydney Melanoma Unit, known as The Poche Centre. As a result of this gift, the Sydney Melanoma Unit became the Melanoma Institute Australia. While Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) now has its own fundraising program, the Melanoma Foundation continues to support University of Sydney academics working with MIA researchers to fulfil its mission to support world-class research into melanoma.