Swee Tan

A picture of Swee Tan

Surgeon / Research Scientist / Medical Humanitarian

From a family of 13 children brought up in a village in Malaysia, Dr Tan completed medical training at Melbourne University in 1985 and subsequently in New Zealand where he qualified as a plastic surgeon. Following fellowships at Oxford and Harvard he became Hutt Hospital’s Director of Plastic Surgery in 2000-2006 and Director of Surgery in 2007-2013.

He founded the Centre for the Study & Treatment of Vascular Birthmarks in 1996. Unsatisfied with the treatment for strawberry birthmarks he retrained as a scientist, receiving a PhD from Otago University in 2001. In 2013 he founded the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute, dedicated to relieving human suffering through paradigm-changing scientific research.

Discoveries by Dr Tan’s team of the stem cell origin of strawberry birthmarks underscore the new low-cost treatment of this tumour using anti-hypertensive medications. Building on this work, cancer stem cells, the proposed ‘root’ of cancer, have been discovered in 14 types of cancer, leading to a novel cancer treatment using low-cost commonly available medications. A clinical study is now underway for patients with glioblastoma, a deadly brain cancer.

Dr Tan has received many honours and awards, is a holder of six patents and an author of over 150 publications.