Hunter Brain Cancer Biobank, Hunter woman donates entire brain for science

Love and family: Jackie Marsh with her husband Tony and daughter Tarni-Lea. Mrs Marsh will be the first person to donate her entire brain to the Hunter Brain Cancer Biobank.

Love and family: Jackie Marsh with her husband Tony and daughter Tarni-Lea. Mrs Marsh will be the first person to donate her entire brain to the Hunter Brain Cancer Biobank.

SINGLETON’S Jackie Marsh has been a foster mother to 85 children in addition to raising four of her own. But she hopes her most enduring gift will be her decision to become the first person to donate her entire brain to the Hunter Brain Cancer Biobank. 

“It just seems like the logical thing to do. I’d like to be able to help other people because it can’t help me at this stage,” the 62-year-old who is nearing the end of her battle with brain cancer said on Wednesday. 

Singleton's, Jackie Marsh, will be the first person to donate her entire brain to the Hunter Brain Cancer Biobank

Husband Tony Marsh recalled it was only nine months ago that their lives had irrevocably changed. 

“I was just sitting here on Easter Monday and Jackie was vacuuming the floor. She said, Tony, I can’t move my left leg. I got up to go to her and held her and she just dropped with a seizure. That was the first we knew anything was wrong,” he said.

Mrs Marsh, a former archaeologist, was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme tumour and consequently underwent surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. But the cancer continued to grow despite the best medical efforts. 

“They told us that Jackie was likely to survive anywhere from 14 months to just three months,” Mr Marsh said.

Together: Jackie Marsh with her family following surgery in April but prior to commencing treatment.

Together: Jackie Marsh with her family following surgery in April but prior to commencing treatment.

“We did a lot of Googling to find out what’s happening and realised that brain cancer is lagging behind other cancers in research. It doesn’t seem right.  I believe Jackie is the first person to donate her entire brain to the Hunter Brain Cancer Biobank so hopefully they can pick up something with her tumour that can help them develop a treatment for future generations.”

Head of the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance Stephen Ackland said brain donations are rare but exceptionally valuable to researchers.

“While we can do scans to identify the effects on the tumour, we’re really guessing about the exact molecular changes,” Professor Ackland said.

“Why do brain tumours develop resistance to radiation and chemotherapy, how do they grow throughout the brain? These are the sort of questions that we can work out through research if we have brain tissue after treatment.”

Upon her passing, Mrs Marsh’s brain will be preserved long-term in the Biobank for future cancer research.

Tony Marsh says it is typical of his wife’s character to be concerned for others and prepared to help, even during the terminal stages of her illness.

The Hunter Brain Cancer Biobank is supported by the Mark Hughes Foundation under the auspices of the Hunter Cancer Biobank housed at the Hunter Medical Research Institute.

Further details can be found at www.biobank.org.au or contact 0437 430 454.

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