Family company establish UQ fellowship to fight MND

Successful business and family man Ross Maclean had a tough fight on his hands. At 80, he was battling a debilitating disease for which there is currently no adequate treatments or cure – Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

True to his fighting spirit and to help the cause of research into the condition, Ross Maclean and his family have joined forces with the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at The University of Queensland to raise funds for the appointment of a research scientist dedicated to studying MND.

Mr Maclean’s company, the Index Group, underwrote fundraising for The Ross Maclean Fellowship, launched in early 2004. The Fellowship was created after Mr Maclean’s meetings with Professor Perry Bartlett, Foundation Chair in Molecular Neuroscience and QBI inaugural Director. MND, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Maladie de Charcot, was first described by Charcot, a French neurologist, in the 1860s. It affects more than 350,000 people worldwide, with a mortality rate of 100,000 people each year. In Australia, one person dies of MND every day. MND involves a deterioration of the nerve cells, or neurones, controlling key muscles including those in the trunk and limbs and those controlling speech, swallowing and breathing, while leaving the brain unaffected. Symptoms of advanced MND include difficulty moving around and sleeping; breathlessness and fatigue; and stiff, swollen and cold limbs. Probably the most high profile person to have developed MND is the famous physicist Stephen Hawking.

Mr Maclean was diagnosed with MND around the year 2000 after experiencing numbness in some of his limbs followed by a gradual deterioration in fine motor skills such as using keys, writing and turning on switches. His son, Jeff, said his father had delayed telling his family so as not to unduly worry them. Mr Maclean Senior and his wife, Daphne, have six grandchildren through Jeff and his older brother Craig, Deputy Principal of Bundaberg State High School. Mr Maclean Senior was also something of a veteran at fighting illness. As a child, he had battled osteo, which left him with a slight limp for life.

When diagnosed with MND, Mr Maclean was Owner and Managing Director of the Index Group of Companies, one of Queensland’s top 400 privately owned companies and long-time major sponsor of the Souths Rugby Union Club in Brisbane. In fact, Index was the first company to sponsor rugby union anywhere in Australia in 1976 and Mr Maclean Snr was the club’s patron while Jeff played for the club in nearly 200 games as a back in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Index Group of Company’s interests have been vast and diverse and have included designing and manufacturing commercial water filtration equipment, selling secondhand mining and quarrying equipment, exporting Tasmanian silica flour (sand) for LCD glass manufacture and previously built steel barges and tugs. Jeff said the company would fundraise by approaching people for donations directly rather than organising major events.

He said even when his father was completely immobile and connected to a ventilator 24-hours-a-day, he remained very mentally alert and hopeful for a future cure or treatment for MND. “He could still talk with his ventilator in use and still made business telephone calls and answered email with assistance,” Jeff said.The QBI was launched recently and will eventually employ around 240 scientists investigating how the brain works at the cellular and molecular levels to address diseases such as MND, Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Tell us what you need and we'll try to find out the right solution