Michelle Haber AM has had a career distinguished by her commitment to pediatric oncology, and her efforts have touched lives across the globe. Her illustrious journey has been defined by pioneering research that has reshaped the understanding and treatment of childhood cancers.
Her ground-breaking work has yielded innovative therapies and treatment modalities, offering young cancer patients the promise of a brighter future.
“Look back 60 years and nearly every child diagnosed with cancer died of the disease. Now, 80 percent of children are surviving,” she tells The CEO Magazine. “Back then, they thought cancer could only be treated by surgery or radiotherapy and the idea of treating it with drugs was unheard of.”
At the epicentre of Haber’s mission to eradicate the disease is the Children’s Cancer Institute, an organization that Haber diligently leads as Executive Director. Her leadership has brought together scientists, physicians and researchers in a relentless pursuit of discoveries that have catalyzed significant advancements in the field.
“We’ve made a number of world-first discoveries, but my proudest achievement is establishing a program that goes way beyond the scope of my own research program, or even that of the Institute. And that is the Zero Childhood Cancer Program, or ‘ZERO’ as we call it,” she says.
“ZERO recognizes that every child’s cancer is unique and that by analyzing the genetics of each child and their cancer, we can understand what’s happening at a molecular level and use that understanding to formulate personalized treatment recommendations. Every child with cancer in the country can now have access to personalized medicine through ZERO.”
But the Australian scientist’s influence extends well beyond her laboratory. Her tireless advocacy on behalf of childhood cancer research has resonated on a global scale.
“Walking into that laboratory for the first time, I felt excitement, but also a sense of responsibility and understanding that parents and doctors were putting their trust in us.”
Through strategic collaborations with international organizations, she has elevated awareness and secured vital resources for the cause. Her initiatives have attracted substantial funding, with generous contributions from institutions across the world.
Haber’s effective resource mobilization has expanded the scope of the research, equipping scientists and medical professionals worldwide with the tools to combat the formidable disease.
Her leadership at the Children’s Cancer Institute has also inspired CEOs and other corporate leaders to become advocates and supporters of the endeavor.
Haber says she knew from the beginning that her work at the laboratory was deeply important.
“Walking into that laboratory for the first time, I felt excitement, but also a sense of responsibility and understanding that parents and doctors were putting their trust in us,” she shares.
Commitment to Change
As the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Haber leaves an indelible imprint. In 2007, Haber was appointed a member of the Order of Australia, in recognition of her services to science and exceptional contributions to medical research.
Her research on neuroblastoma, a rare and aggressive childhood cancer, has resulted in clinical trials that have substantially increased survival rates for children, revolutionizing treatment methods.
“We focus on the cancers where there is greatest need … which have the lowest survival rates.”
“We focus on the cancers where there is greatest need – from the aggressive brain tumors to the sarcomas and neuroblastomas, which have some of the lowest survival rates,” she says.
“So we’ve developed Australia’s own dedicated child cancer drug discovery center, sponsored by the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, where we now have the capacity to screen thousands of chemicals per day to identify new drugs to target children’s cancer through innovative clinical trials.”
Haber’s extraordinary journey is distinguished by a pursuit of progress and an enduring commitment to effecting change.
In celebrating the same, we laud a lifetime dedicated to ending childhood cancer, illuminating the path to a future where children can grow and flourish, free from the burden of this catastrophic disease.