Dan, Noel George

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Noel Dan, a neurosurgeon, pioneered new techniques for surgical procedures in anterior skull base surgery. His leadership of an epidemiological study of head injuries in NSW was instrumental in the introduction of Random Breath Testing.

After graduating in 1964, Noel completed his two-year residency at the Lewisham and Mater Hospitals. He then travelled to Edinburgh, where he worked from 1967 to 1969 as Surgery Registrar in the Royal Infirmary.

On return to Australia in 1969, Noel took up an appointment as Neurosurgery Registrar at St Vincent’s Hospital. Since the 1970s, he has continued to work as a neurosurgeon in both public and private hospitals across Sydney. From 1978 to 2003, Noel was Head of the Department of Neurosurgery at Concord Hospital. At present he is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney.

Extensively involved in the neurosurgical community, Noel has served as President of the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia (1984–1985), the New South Wales Neurosurgical Association (1983–1986) and as Chairman of the Board of Neurosurgery of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (1985–1988). In the RACS, Noel was also a foundation member of the History of Surgery, the Head and Neck Surgery and the Medico-legal Sections. He also served as the examiner in Neurosurgery for the fellowship examinations of the RACS (1986–1996 and 2000). Remarkably, Noel has held every single peak leadership role available in Australasian Neurosurgery. On an international level, he was President of the World Congress of Neurological Surgery from 1995 to 2001 and was subsequently elected lifetime Honorary President of the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies. He has also been President of the Academia Eurasiana Neurochirurgica (1994–1996), an organisation founded in 1984. The membership consists of 100 active members, half from Europe and half from Asia who are involved in academic neurosurgery. Moreover, it is an organization with a very restricted and tightly supervised nomination and election system. Finally, Noel was also one of 15 corresponding members of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery.

In 1990, Noel was the inaugural recipient of the Neurosurgical Society of Australia Medal and the Mater Hospital Philomena Award. In 1993, he was appointed Herbert Moran Lecturer by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

His major research achievements include the development of a number of surgical techniques, in partnership with Professor John de Burgh Norman, which are now regarded as standard techniques in anterior skull base surgery. These advances occurred particularly during the 1970s and 1980s when this area of surgery was first being extensively explored. During the 70s Noel and de Burgh Norman started to develop new techniques for surgery of the craniofacial junction region. They jointly worked on developing surgical procedures to allow tumours in regions of mutual interest to be excised. This field was subsequently subsumed as part of skull base surgery (anterior skull base surgery.) Some of the techniques were devised purely to gain access to the area, whereas others were innovative methods to prevent or deal with complications and often developed as a response to specific problems encountered during surgery. During the 1970s and 1980s patients were referred to them from all over Australia, right up until other surgeons and teams learnt to perform this or equivalent techniques. During this period particularly, Noel and de B Norman were invited to many parts of the world to lecture on the techniques they had developed. In addition, Noel has been involved in the Asian Skull Base Society and was invited to give the opening address of the 4th International Skull Base Congress in Sydney in 2004.

Noel’s other major research contribution was as Chairman of the Trauma Committee of the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia. Between 1980 and 1983, they had a grant from the Australian Brain Foundation and Commonwealth Department of Health for a study of head injuries in New South Wales. A considerable amount of epidemiological and statistical information came out of the study. One of the most significant results of this study was that it was used as the statistical basis for the introduction of random breath testing in New South Wales, a scheme, which has seen a massive fall in motor accident death rates over the past twenty years.

In 2003, Noel was made a Member of the Order of Australia “for service to neurological science and surgery through clinical practice, research and education, and by fostering links between neurosurgeons in Australia and overseas”. [1]

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Dan, Noel George. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.