Cancer Survivorship

The range of cancers for which radiotherapy is being used is ever expanding.

Help us restore hope
The Institute’s breakthrough research would not be possible without the support of our donors
Peter Walsh's Story
“It’s virtually a normal hand now, I can do lots of normal things, not just my buttons!”

Chairman's Message

The O’Brien Foundation works tirelessly to raise much needed funds to support groundbreaking research by the O’Brien Institute a Department of St Vincent’s Institute into treatments to give form and function to people with injuries from trauma, the after-effects of disease treatment and congenital abnormalities.

From earliest times, surgery has tried to restore dignity and hope to those suffering deformities from injury, disease or birth defects. Reconstructive surgery, now termed plastic surgery, is the most ancient of all surgical arts and involves transferring tissues from one part of the body to another. The methods have improved from primitive, multi-staged procedures to a one-stage operation due to advances in instrumentation, technology and knowledge of how our tissues are nourished. The O’Brien Institute remains at the forefront of these developments with its pioneering contributions to microsurgery.

Our ambition is to totally change the direction of the reconstructive process, stimulating injured tissues and organs to repair and rebuild rather than through the trauma of replacing. We have isolated stem cells in fat tissue that have the capacity, given the right signals, to replicate themselves over a thousand-fold switching into mature cells matching those lost. The process can be enhanced by combining cells with scaffolds made of special materials to create three-dimensional structures. We call this Tissue Engineering or Regenerative Surgery.

This is an incredibly exciting time. Join the Foundation on this inspiring journey.

Research Projects

Today, researchers in the OBI Department employ cutting edge techniques in molecular, lymphatic and vascular biology; as well as utilising stem cell biology and tissue engineering platforms developed over two decades. Driving this research is a proud tradition of keen clinical observation, patient-driven translational research and a close working relationship with the clinical plastic surgery unit at St Vincent’s Hospital.
Adipose Tissue
The concept of “engineering” soft tissues such as fat is gaining popularity because of the potential to repair and regenerate tissues and organs. Research supported by the O’Brien Insitute has shown a strong translational base with a focus on growing adipose tissue for use in clinical reconstructive applications. This work targets reconstruction of deformities such as post mastectomy breast reconstruction, other contour defects and replacement of tissues lost to trauma, AIDS and ageing. The areas of research can be broken down into two main areas: developing new models for clinical applications of adipose tissue engineering, and key signaling events involved in adipose tissue engineering.
Vascular Biology
Research in the O’Brien institute Vascular Biology Group focuses on creating micro-vascular (capillary) blood vessel networks for tissue regeneration, both in tissue engineering of new organs or tissues, or as part of a wound healing response.The group’s work originally focused on the spontaneous formation of capillary networks that sprout from large blood vessels isolated in a tissue engineering chamber in an animal. This chamber model has grown cardiac muscle, fat, pancreatic islets and liver tissue. More recently the group has focused on growing capillary networks in the laboratory to vascularize 3D tissue engineering constructs prior to implantation in the lab.
Annual report figure 1_KA
Cancer Survivorship
The range of cancers for which radiotherapy is being used is ever expanding. Unfortunately, there is unavoidable exposure to the surrounding normal cells often killing health cells causing permanent damage or injury that affects a patient’s quality of life. These changes result in ongoing tissue contracture, pain, lymphoedema, and tissue breakdown causing significant disability, impairment infection, and potentially life-threatening exposure of vital structures. The Foundation has supported the O’Brien institute in developing in-vitro models that mimic the dosage regimes administered to cancer patients, specifically focusing on the cell types that occur in the skin.
Cardiac Regeneration
Stem cells have the potential to treat heart diseases by transforming into heart cells and blood vessels or by producing protective factors. Furthermore, these human heart cells produced from stem cells can be used to grow whole tissues of human heart. These engineered human heart tissues might then be developed to replace and support damaged hearts through surgical transplantation and to test new drugs for heart attack.
Lymphodema is a debilitating soft tissue disease caused by an impairment of the lymphatic system, which leads to fluid build-up in the surrounding interstitial tissue. The lymphatic system is a network of thin-walled vessels, – comprised of lymphatic endothelial cells that is integral to fluid homeostasis, immune cell surveillance and absorption of dietary fat. Lymphodema can be an inherited disorder such as Milroy’s Disease but can be acquired following trauma such as surgery, infection or radiation therapy. Approximately 20% of breast cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy and/or surgery to the lymph nodes will develop Lymphodema.

Research Projects

Volunteers Involved

Hummingbirds Event

Amount Raised


The ‘Hummingbirds’ are a small group of dedicated, enthusiastic and experienced fundraising volunteers, raising funds for the O’Brien Foundation. We are committed to the terrific work that the O’Brien Institute perform and decided to help raise funds and build a network of friends to support this organisation.

The hummingbird’s delicate bill
Shaped for specialised feeding and probing into flowers – represents the precision element of our field of endeavour.