Charismatic and controversial, ground-breaking neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo is world-renowned for offering surgery to people with brain cancer who have been given no hope. Teo’s mantra for life is that there is no such thing as false hope. That we must hold and cradle hope, even when the odds are against you.
Teo strongly believes that a surgeon’s responsibility to his patients shouldn’t end on the operating table. In his quest for better treatments, Teo has contributed to raising over $50 million for brain cancer research.
His long-term goal is to find a cure for brain cancer. Teo has never been satisfied with the status quo, so he set out to shake up how brain cancer research is funded by launching the Charlie Teo Foundation in 2018. It’s about funding brilliant, out-of-the-box thinkers to go where no brain cancer researcher has gone before. His foundation operates with a low-cost and transparent model raising the bar for how charities report their spending.
Meanwhile, Charlie has an international reputation for doing radical surgery on brain tumours that other neurosurgeons consider inoperable. For over 30 years, he has pioneered minimally invasive techniques in neurosurgery and trained many of the world’s leading figures in neurosurgery. Teo is still in constant demand by patients worldwide, including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Britain, and South-East Asia. He continues to operate overseas on the most complex brain tumours and to share his skills and knowledge in the field of brain cancer.
A story about Charlie and one of his patients, the young pianist Aaron McMillan, is detailed in the book ‘Life in His Hands’ by Susan Wyndham. A patient of Charlie Teo's, Sally White, has written of her experiences in ‘Three Quotes from A Plumber: How a Second Opinion Changed the Life of a Woman with a Brain Tumour’. He has also been featured in several TV programs, including ABC's Q&A, Good Medicine, 60 Minutes, Last Chance Surgery, Australian Story, Medicine or Myth and Enough Rope.
Dr Teo gave the 50th Anniversary Errol Solomon Meyers Memorial Lecture at the University of Queensland in August 2007, the 2012 Australia Day speech, and was the first Australian non-politician to address the US Congress on the need for more funding for brain cancer.
Dr Teo chose paediatric neurosurgery because it was "the most taxing specialty" and "I knew you could be a pioneer in neurosurgery". After training in Sydney, he spent a decade working in Texas and Arkansas. There he refined his use of endoscopy to operate on the brain through a small hole in the skull, designed innovative instruments for keyhole brain surgery, established the Arkansas Paediatric Neuro-oncology Clinic, was promoted from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor and became Head of the Paediatric Neurosurgery department in Arkansas and directed many hands-on courses throughout the world.
Recognition: Dr Teo dedicates time every year to pro bono work in developing countries, for which he has been recognised with awards from Rotary International. This includes the Paul Harris Fellowship for contribution to World Health.
Dr Teo was a finalist in 2003 and again in 2009 as NSW Australian of the Year for his pioneering work and patient advocacy. He was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in 2011 and was Australia’s Most Trusted Person for six consecutive years.
Personal: Charlie says, "I've always been a bit of a nonconformist.". An old boy of the Scots College in Sydney, he occasionally puts on his kilt and plays the bagpipes. At school, the son of Singaporean migrants preferred karate to rugby and Chinese restaurants to the pub. However, he still rides a motorbike and says, "I call a spade a bloody shovel."
He's also a dedicated father to four fiercely independent daughters and, recently, a chubby and delightful grandson. He is supported by, and is very much in love with, his fiancée, Traci. To stay fit for extended operations, he kayaks, hikes, swims laps, and treats his body like a temple preferring water over coffee and alcohol. He lives by Buddhist principles and his mother's ethical code: “You should treat everyone as though they're a member of your family".
Behaviour: Dr Teo operates to music by John Denver, Elvis and Abba. He is mentioned in ABBA’s soon-to-be-published biography for listening to ABBA continuously for 11 hours while removing a tumour from the brain of the son of one of Benny’s closest friends (they travelled from Sweden for Teo’s skills). Unlike his more formal colleagues, he calls patients by their first names and invites them to do the same. He throws his arms around them, supports their personal religious beliefs, talks to them about diet and meditation, and sometimes takes them home for dinner. He warns them of the worst possible outcomes but encourages them to hold hope.
"Charlie has an aura about him," says Dr Peter Isert, an anaesthetist who worked with Teo for many years. "He is very exacting, and his brains are in his fingers. His patients look good because there's minimal damage to other tissue." On a recent podcast, Mark Bouris described Teo as someone who instils trust and in whom you would readily entrust your life.
In this presentation Charlie dives into the capabilities of the human brain, sharing it’s capacity to help us grow and perform at our peak.
The Magnificent Brain
The Magnificent Brain
Charlie will also share the latest science on brain health and what emerging technologies will shape the future of medicine and neuroscience.
Learn more about the capability of the human brain
Understand the emerging technologies and neuroscience that will impact our lives
Have High-Performance tips and brain hacks explained
Charlie occupies a unique space with a holistic and integrative approach to medicine, health and well-being. As both a highly skilled Neurosurgeon and trained acupuncturist Charlie shares the well-being practices from both East and Western traditions and explains the science behind why these work.
The Science Behind Alternative Thinking
The Science Behind Alternative Thinking
Understand the science behind emerging wellness practices and how they can benefit our health
Get a better understanding of holistic, integrative medicine
False Hope? There's No Such Thing | Charlie Teo | TEDxSydneyControversial neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo looks to his patients to understand the meaning of hope. Charlie Teo is an inspirational neurosurgeon, pushing the boundaries to the point where the medical fraternity shun him. He gives people hope, time and life. Charlie is an internationally acclaimed neurosurgeon and a pioneer in keyhole minimally invasive techniques. Charlie Teo founded the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation (formerly the Cure for Life Foundation) in 2003, which, for the last 10 years, has been the largest funder of brain cancer research in Australia and which supports the Neuro-oncology wing of the Lowy Cancer Centre. As passionate about teaching as performing surgery, Charlie has been awarded Best Teacher awards in both the USA and Australia and devotes three months of every year instructing and doing live surgery pro bono in developing countries. In 2013, he was the first non-politician Australian to address the US Congress on the need for more funding for brain cancer research. Charlie is a father to four beautiful girls, husband to a very understanding wife, Genevieve, and supports the rights of girls and young women in impoverished countries through various charities including the Teo Family Foundation.
No other neurosurgeon is as polarising as Dr Charlie Teo | Straight Talk podcast | Mark BourisDr Charlie Teo is Australia's most well-known neurosurgeon for right and wrong reasons. Since the end of 2021, Teo has been unable to operate in Australia due to restrictions on his licence.