Foundation series

Brendan McAssey’s Beluga Foundation donates $6 million for stroke research at La Trobe University

“Disability and stroke have been part of my life. I lived with the experience of disability following a stroke and I lived with the experience of my sister Michelle having a profound physical disability,” said Mr McAssey.

“Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability in Australia.”

He first heard about Chris Sobey on ABC radio in 2018. Amniotic cells had been found to successfully treat stroke damage in mouse trials, and Professor Sobey had published a scientific paper on the results. Now he just needed to try it on humans.

“Nothing miraculous”

Mr. McAssey got in touch and paid $1 million. This allowed eight stroke victims to be injected with the cells to test whether they were safe for humans.

The results were amazing, McAssey said.

“The fact that this treatment has the potential to reverse the impact of a stroke in a very short time is nothing short of miraculous. The results of the initial trial made it impossible not to want to move on to the second stage.

The second phase, funded by the next $6 million, will be a controlled trial of 78 stroke victims who will receive either a placebo, a low dose of amniotic cells, or a high dose.

There were 27,428 Australians who suffered a stroke for the first time in their lives in 2020, which equates to a stroke every 19 minutes. Nearly 500,000 Australians live with the effects of a stroke. It is one of Australia’s biggest killers, causing the premature death of more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer.

Without Mr. McAssey’s philanthropic intervention, the research would not have continued, as Professor Sobey had reached the end of the road on most funding sources.

“It’s not a pharmaceutical solution,” McAssey said. “It’s not a medicine you have to pay for. This makes it very difficult to get funding because public funds tend to be matched with private funds, and pharmaceutical companies are not interested in this treatment because there is no drug at the end.

Professor Sobey will enroll his first stroke patient later this year, with work to be carried out at around ten sites in Australia.

While Mr. McAssey and his family tend to avoid the limelight, he is happy to make the donation public in a bid to encourage other wealthy individuals and friends to follow suit.

“I have a lot of rich friends and they don’t give as much money as they should. It’s partly because they don’t know what to give. This is groundbreaking research and we would like others, including some of my friends, to join us and help the university accelerate this. »

In March, La Trobe received one of the largest donations ever to a university when Olga Tennyson left $45 million in her will for autism research.

On Tuesday afternoon, the university will announce that it has reached its fundraising goal of $100 million and will extend the campaign into a second phase, to raise a new goal of $200 million by the end of 2026.