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Cancer research groups

This page includes all the research groups that feature in our Cancer Research at Otago website.

ASPIRE2025

wgnaspire2025 tnASPIRE2025 is a partnership between major New Zealand research groups carrying out research to help achieve the Government's goal of a tobacco-free Aotearoa by 2025. ASPIRE2025 brings together leading tobacco-free researchers and health service groups in New Zealand and strengthens existing collaborations. ASPIRE2025 was awarded the status of a University of Otago Research Theme in November 2011.

Email aspire2025@otago.ac.nz
Web aspire2025.org.nz

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Biostatistical consulting

Two seated young women collaborating tnBiostatistical consulting provides statistical expertise for clinical, epidemiological and other health-related research. The consulting biostatisticians can collaborate or offer advice on:

  • Study design
  • Appropriate statistical methods
  • Funding applications
  • Statistical packages
  • Data coding and cleaning
  • Statistical analyses
  • Drafting and revising articles and reports

We have consultants available in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Contact a consultant

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The Burden of Disease Epidemiology, Equity and Cost-Effectiveness Programme (BODE3)

BODE3 group thumbnailThe Burden of Disease Epidemiology, Equity and Cost-Effectiveness Programme has an aim to build capacity and academic rigour in New Zealand in the estimation of disease burden, cost-effectiveness and equity impacts of proposed interventions, and undertake a range of such assessments. It is a Health Research Council (HRC) funded programme, from 2010 to 2015. Major collaborative partners include the University of Queensland and the Ministry of Health.

Email kate.sloane@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/wellington/departments/publichealth/research/bode3

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Cancer and Chronic Conditions (C3) research group

Di's team tnThe Cancer and Chronic Conditions (C3) research group is a collaborative group of researchers working at the interface between public health, health services research, and clinical medicine. Our work includes a range of projects aimed at reducing the impact of cancer and chronic conditions on population health and health inequalities through policy and health system change.

Email diana.sarfati@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/wellington/departments/publichealth/research/cancercontrol

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Cancer biology, Department of Pathology, Dunedin School of Medicine

PathDSMtnCancer is a cell growth disease where cells undergo division many more times than normal. This makes the cells prone to replication errors—mistakes that occur during the copying of the DNA on the chromosomes that occurs in each cell division. If these mistakes or mutations are not repaired they accumulate. As more and more mutations accumulate they affect cell processes involving death, location, intercellular communication and others. Eventually these rogue cells become cancers.

The Department of Pathology, Dunedin School of Medicine, has a number of laboratories that work on different aspects of cancer biology.

Email pathology@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/dsm-pathology/research/otago117838.html

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Cancer Society Social and Behavioural Research Unit

sbru daffy tn

The Cancer Society Social and Behavioural Research Unit was established in 1990 with core funding from the Cancer Society of New Zealand and the support of the University of Otago. Presently it has research programmes operating in our six priority areas of tobacco control, ultraviolet radiation exposure, physical activity and nutrition, psycho-social-spiritual factors, alcohol, and Hauora Māori.

Email sbru@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/sbru

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The Canterbury Comprehensive Cancer Centre (C4)

c4 logoThe Canterbury Comprehensive Centre (C4) links together all health professionals involved in the clinical treatment and care of patients with cancer in the Canterbury region. This includes counsellors and support organisations working with cancer patients and their families, researchers with a cancer focus, non-governmental organisations, and the community.

Email c4.uoc@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/c4

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Centre for Bioengineering and Nanomedicine

Bioeng tnOur Centre is at the forefront of research in the following areas:

  • Molecular and Biomedical Imaging—advancing diagnosis and treatment of major health diseases in new ways by detecting spectral (colour) differences in tissues
  • Engineered Therapeutics—triggered and controlled drug delivery systems, nanomedicine, engineered particles, selective and targeted therapies
  • Regenerative Medicine—combines a patient's cells with biodegradable scaffolds and growth factors offering considerable advantages over current surgical interventions
  • Bioengineering Materials—medical gels which stop bleeding, infection, and dramatically reduce adhesions and bone substitutes and bone ceramics
  • Bioengineering Devices—uses engineering design principles for the diagnosis, treatment, prevention or monitoring of disease
  • Medical Computing—The MPJV research group is using mobile technology to bring visibility to the patient journey; in order to deliver the right care to the right patient at the right time.

Email bionan@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/bioengineering/research

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Centre for Free Radical Research

Free radicals tnWe carry out research into the roles of free radicals in the development of cancer, and how the antioxidant systems of cancer cells might be manipulated to increase their susceptibility to treatment.

Research Projects:

  • White blood cells in the promotion and progression of cancer
  • Vitamin C in preventing and treating cancer
  • Oxidative stress during the death of cancer cells
  • Anti-cancer properties of compounds that target the antioxidant systems of cancer cells
  • Biomarkers to measure the effectiveness of anti-cancer compounds

Email anitra.carr@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/christchurch/research/freeradical

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Centre for Society, Governance & Science

SoGos tnThe Centre for Society, Governance & Science (SoGoS) promotes and undertakes research on the challenges of integrating medical and scientific advancements with society in the face of changing approaches being used to govern citizens and institutions, as well as their rights, relationships and responsibilities.

SoGoS aims to be an internationally renowned multidisciplinary research centre that undertakes research and policy development work for governments, professional bodies and non-governmental organisations.

Email richman.wee@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/law/research/sogos

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Centre for Translational Cancer Research - Te Aho Matatū

CTCR-tnTranslational cancer research bridges the gap between laboratory-based science and treatment in the clinic. We now have sufficient knowledge in the fields of cancer biology, molecular biology, and immunology to make a significant impact on the treatment and management of cancer.

We're bringing about rapid improvements in cancer outcomes by addressing defined clinical problems. Our research is accelerating the development and testing of new drugs and diagnostic tools that directly assist clinicians and their patients.

Our research programmes include:

Email ctcr@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/ctcr

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Clinical Genetics Group

ClinGen tnOur group identified mutations in a gene called WTX as the cause of osteopathia striata congenita with cranial sclerosis (OSCS). This is an X-linked dominant disorder characterized by the accrual of dense, sclerotic bone throughout the skeleton, most especially the skull. Males who are hemizygous for a disease-causing mutation are severely affected—not only with skeletal manifestations, but also with malformations in multiple organ systems, which are often life-limiting.

Several surprising aspects have arisen out of this discovery. For instance, WTX is a negative regulator of WNT signaling and it has also been shown to be a tumour suppressor gene, implicated in the development of Wilms tumour, a kidney cancer which primarily affects children. Ongoing work in the laboratory is aimed at disentangling this developmental disease-cancer link in addition to addressing questions around how defects in WNT signaling can cause such widespread malformations in several organ systems.

Email stephen.robertson@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/clinical-genetics/projects/wnt-signaling

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Colorectal Translational Research Group

CRC Trans tnThe Colorectal Translational Research Group (CTRG) incorporates research expertise from a range of disciplines including surgery, medical oncology, molecular biology, bioinformatics, immunology, and experimental pathology. Our work contributes to the broader goals of the Centre for Translational Cancer Research, and promotes synergies with other research groups in New Zealand. We aim to maximise research opportunities into colorectal cancer by providing a strong clinical base for laboratory-based research and promoting the translation of laboratory discoveries into the clinical environment.

Our main research areas are:

  • Genetic and epigenetic factors in colorectal cancer
  • Prognostic tests for colorectal cancer
  • Immune response to colorectal cancer
  • Immunotherapy for colorectal cancer
  • Immune mechanisms in Crohn's disease
  • Clinical trials

Email surgery@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/dsm-surgery/research/colorectal-translational-research-group

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D4 Network

Green capsules D4—Diagnostics, Drugs, Devices and Discovery focuses on translational research for improving care via:

  • Creating novel point-of-care diagnostics and devices enabling targeted and selective treatments
  • Developing smart drug delivery systems and devices to improve and optimise therapy
  • Drug discovery for innovative treatments

The network draws together the disciplines of bioengineering, pharmaceutical science and drug discovery with an emphasis on collaborating with commerce and industry.

Email olaf.bork@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/d4/index.html

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EXPINKT™ Exercise in recovery

PhysEd tnExercise can attenuate the adverse side effects of treatment, reduce risk of cancer and non-cancer related death, and cancer recurrence.

The EXPINKT™ (Exercise Training Beyond Breast Cancer) programme was established by Dr Lynnette Jones in collaboration with the Oncology Dept, Dunedin Hospital, and is designed to provide supervised exercise to women diagnosed with breast cancer. Patients are referred directly to the programme by their oncologists. In addition, the programme provides a unique teaching and learning opportunity for fourth year BPhEd students, who work directly with cancer patients in the Exercise Prescription clinic gym.

As with breast cancer, exercise has a valuable role in healthy survivorship for men diagnosed with prostate cancer. Lynnette is collaborating with Anatomy and Structural Biology to develop a translational research model to investigate the molecular pathways responsible for prostate cancer progression that may be positively affected by exercise.

Email lynnette.jones@otago.ac.nz
Web physed.otago.ac.nz/research/entityHealth.html

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Haematology Research Group

Path alt tnOur main area of research interest is the immunobiology of cancer and leukaemia. Our long term aim is to develop better methods for the diagnosis and treatment of malignant disease.

The group has considerable experience in cell biology methodology including flow cytometry, magnetic bead technology, T cell proliferation assays, cytotoxicity assays, ELISAs, cell membrane biochemistry, preparation of cell suspensions from solid tissues, dendritic cell purification, immunohistochemistry and mammalian cell tissue culture.

Currrent projects include:

  • Analysis of myeloid derived suppressor cell numbers and function in patients with cancer
  • Investigation of mechanisms of immunosuppression by leukaemic cells

Email judy.mckenzie@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/christchurch/research/haematology

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Healthier Lives National Science Challenge

Healthier Lives tnThe Healthier Lives National Science Challenge is a national research collaboration dedicated to achieving healthier lives for all New Zealanders.

We are working on the prevention and treatment of four of New Zealand’s main non-communicable diseases:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Our mission is to deliver the right prevention to the right population and the right treatment to the right patient. We plan to do this in partnership with stakeholders and communities by generating world class research, and translating our research findings into innovative health policy, practice, and technology, designed for New Zealand’s unique communities.

Five high-level research programmes have been identified as priorities:

  • Personalised prevention through new technologies
  • Minimally invasive markers for effective cancer diagnosis and treatment
  • Enhanced CVD and diabetes risk reduction
  • Delivering culturally centred health initiatives
  • Slowing progression of prediabetes to diabetes

Email healthier.lives@otago.ac.nz
Web healthierlives.co.nz

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Health Inequalities Research Programme (HIRP)

wgnhirp tnThe Health Inequalities Research Programme is one group of research hosted by the Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington. It consists of eight projects that come together under an HRC-funded programme of research, from 2005 to 2011.Our vision is "Reducing inequalities in health through excellent research and engagement with policy, health sector and community".

Email kate.sloane@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/wellington/departments/publichealth/research/hirp

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Helicobacter Research Group

View of Christchurch cityWe are a small group working on a range of projects relating to gastrointestinal infections in humans.

Much of our current research centres on the gastric pathogen, Helicobacter pylori and the role that small outer membrane vesicles (OMV) shed from the bacterial surface play in the development of H. pylori-associated disease, including gastric cancer. We are also investigating the effect(s) of H. pylori on host iron homeostasis, particularly changes in intracellular iron levels and distribution, based on the observation that chronic infection has been linked to host iron deficiency.

More recently, we have turned our attention to the colon, where we are investigating a role for enteric bacteria in the development of inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer.

Email surgery.uoc@otago.ac.nz

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Hugh Adam Cancer Epidemiology Unit

Research article tnThe Unit regularly examines trends in cancer incidence, mortality, and survival in New Zealand as well as conducting research into the causes, detection, and prevention of cancer. Collaborative studies are being, or have been, conducted of cancer of the prostate, breast, colon, rectum, cervix, skin (melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer), stomach, ovary, mouth and oral cavity, lung, head and neck, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in New Zealand. In addition, with biomedical scientists, studies linking specific cancer risk factors with biological mechanisms of cancer development of are being undertaken.

The Unit also specialises in the design, evaluation and monitoring of national cancer screening programmes and the calculation of an individual's risk of specific cancers. The individual risk calculator for melanoma has been accepted internationally. The Unit has numerous collaborations with national and international institutions and also represents New Zealand in the International Cancer Screening Network of the National Cancer Institute (USA) and the International Lung Cancer Consortium of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO).

Email: hughadam.unit@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/dsm-psm/research/cancer-epidemiology.html

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Lymphoedema treatment with laser therapy

Physio tnThe School of Physiotherapy is running the first clinical evaluation of laser treatment for lymphoedema in New Zealand. Professor David Baxter and his team are evaluating the potential effectiveness of low level laser therapy (LLLT) for breast cancer-related lymphoedema, its acceptability to patients and therapists, and the feasibility of incorporating the treatment into existing clinical practice within New Zealand’s hospitals. LLLT is a non-invasive form of phototherapy, based on the principles of photobiomodulation that is light interacting with tissue to modulate biological processes, typically tissue repair.

Email david.baxter@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/physio/news/otago088152.html

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Mackenzie Cancer Research Group

Mackenzie group tumour imageWe are interested in the pathology of human tumours and in identifying the genetic changes that give rise to cancer. Our research focuses on the molecular regulation of tumour growth, metastasis and response to therapy.

The Mackenzie Cancer Research Group hosts the Cancer Society Tissue Bank.

Email pathology.uoc@otago.ac.nz
Web http://www.otago.ac.nz/mackenzie-cancer/index.html

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Microbiology and Immunology

Micro tnThe Department of Microbiology and Immunology has a large number of research programmes across the fields of microbiology, immunology and virology.

Cures for infectious and autoimmune diseases, as well as non-communicable diseases such as cancer and asthma, require knowledge of the immune response and how it can be manipulated.

Associate Professor Alex McLellan’s lab is studying the immune response to cancer, specifically the roles of T cells, NK(natural killer) cells and extracellular vesicles in antigen presentation.

Dr Ros Kemp’s lab is looking at T cell and myeloid cell subsets in colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease to improve diagnosis, prognosis and treatment.

Email microbiology@otago.ac.nz
Web micro.otago.ac.nz

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Oncology Research Group

DSMtnThe Oncology Research Group is a clinical academic group led by Dr Christopher Jackson, with staff from both the University of Otago and the Southern District Health Board. The group focuses predominantly on clinical research with particular emphasis on clinical trials, but also collaborates closely with many university departments on translational research.

Current projects include:

  • Oraxol – the investigation of a novel therapeutic compound for solid tumours
  • PIPER – New Zealand’s largest clinical study of colorectal cancer
  • A number of collaborative group and commercial clinical trials
  • Collaborative translational research with other university departments on a diverse range of topics including circulating tumour DNA, vaccine therapies for cancer, and predictive factors for melanoma relapse

Email christopher.jackson@southerndhb.govt.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/dsm-medicine/research/otago046620.html

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Oral molecular and immunopathology

MicrophagestnOur programme, at the Sir John Walsh Research Institute, aims to investigate the cellular, and molecular basis of oral diseases, and their treatment.

Oral mucosal diseases including oral squamous cell carcinoma are being investigated using single and double layer immunofluorescence and immunohistochemistry coupled with focused micro-arrays to determine gene expression profiles. Of major interest is regulation of the local immune response in oral mucosal lichen planus and in oral squamous cell carcinoma.

Angiogenesis, and endoplasmic reticulum stress are also being investigated in these lesions so as to develop a better understanding of the role of these mechanisms in the pathogenesis of mucosal lesions.

Email sjwri.admin@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/sjwri/research/oral-molecular-immunopathology

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Pathology and molecular medicine

Path mol tnCurrent research activities within the Department focus on the causes and behaviour of various cancers with a specific emphasis on prostrate, kidney, breast, cervix, and bladder malignancy. Urogenital pathology and dental research are also areas of research interest.

Email colleen.johnston@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/wellington/departments/pathologymolecularmedicine/research

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Pharmacology and Toxicology

PharmTox tnIn the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology state-of-the-art technologies, including the use of in vivo disease models, are used to undertake integrative, cellular and molecular investigations aimed at understanding animal and human pathophysiology (and to delineate targets for novel drugs).

Research in Professor Rhonda Rosengren's group involves the identification of both novel treatments for triple negative breast cancer and hormone refractory prostate cancer.

Dr Sarah Baird's group is interested in how the supportive area surrounding the cancer cells, the stroma, develops and functions. The lab also specializes in determining cell death mechanisms.

Dr John Ashton’s group is currently investigating mechanisms of drug resistance to small molecule inhibitors in oncogene-dominant non-small cell lung cancer, and ALK positive lung cancer in particular. They also have an interest in modelling metastatic disease for drug testing, and are currently working on improving a metastatic prostate cancer mouse model for drug testing.

Email pharmacology@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/phal/research

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Pharmacy

Green capsules (thumbnail)The School of Pharmacy has a very active research programme with disciplines ranging from science to humanities.

We have three main research areas:

  • Pharmaceutical Sciences: drug discovery, drug metabolism and drug action to extend the range of drugs available and to provide a scientific basis for the quality use of medicines and bioactive substances.
  • Clinical Pharmacy: concerned with patient care and the optimisation of medicine use in order to promote health and wellness, and prevent disease.
  • Social Pharmacy: our research focuses mainly on access to, and use of medicines.

Email pharmacy.research@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/pharmacy/research

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Protein biochemistry, structural biology and apoptosis

Day research tnMany key events within cells are regulated by the appropriate interaction of two proteins. Understanding the molecular basis of protein-protein interactions is central to elucidation of these cellular processes and can lead to the development of new or improved therapeutic compounds.

Professor Catherine Day is interested in understanding how a number of proteins involved in apoptosis interact, and how this knowledge can be exploited for the development of improved anti-cancer compounds. Most recently, her group has focused on characterisation of processes that result in attachment of ubiquitin to proteins because the addition of ubiquitin regulates protein interactions and protein abundance—both of which regulate signaling pathways.

Email catherine.day@otago.ac.nz
Web biochem.otago.ac.nz/our-people/academic-teaching-staff/catherine-day

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Research in radiation therapy

radiation t tnThe Radiation Therapy Department has a very varied research portfolio ranging from preclinical cancer research and educational research to research into radiation-induced side effects, cancer patient education and information, self care of radiation therapists and advanced radiation therapy practise.

Email patries.herst@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/wellington/departments/radiationtherapy/research

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Research commercialisation and innovation

Lightbulb thumbnailThe Division of Health Sciences promotes research excellence by encouraging the development of products, services, and policies that provide health, social, and economic benefits.

Services include:

  • Support for staff within the Division of Health Sciences
  • Research and Enterprise Office
  • Opportunities for students
  • Support for emerging entrepreneurs and ideas
  • Callaghan Innovation

Professor Ian Tucker is Health Sciences Associate Dean for Research Commercialisation. He provides strategic overview for the Division in the translation of these discoveries into practical applications.

Email ian.tucker@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/healthsciences/research/innovation

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Research facilities

Close up of confocal microscope tnThe Division of Health Sciences has a range of specialist research equipment, facilities, and consulting expertise available on our campuses in Dunedin, Christchurch, and Wellington. These research tools and the associated expertise are available to established and emerging researchers within the University of Otago. Many are also available to external researchers and commercial interests.

Web otago.ac.nz/healthsciences/research/facilities

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Structural biology of cellular signalling

Mace lab tn[1]Dr Peter Mace's lab aims to understand signalling networks that regulate how cells respond to stress or proliferative stimuli. Of particular interest are the mechanisms by which phosphorylation, ubiquitination and proteolysis act in concert to control fundamental cellular processes such as proliferation and cell death. Using a combination of X-ray crystallography, biochemical and biophysical methods we aim to decipher how signalling proteins regulate these outcomes in normal cells, how signalling is disrupted in cancer, and how this understanding can be translated into more effective disease therapy.

Current projects in the lab include understanding stress-activated protein kinase activation, as well as deubiquitinase enzymes that remove ubiquitin from substrates targeted for degradation. In collaboration with Dr. Anita Dunbier we are also investigating Tribbles Homolog 1, which is a pseudokinase protein implicated in various forms of cancer.

Email peter.mace@otago.ac.nz
Web biochem.otago.ac.nz/our-people/research-only-staff/peter-mace

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Search the Health Sciences Expertise Database

HSci banner tnThe Division of Health Sciences benefits from its high calibre of staff and their wide range of skills and research expertise.

Our Staff Expertise Database provides details on University of Otago, Health Sciences staff. Each staff profile provides information on qualifications, current academic position, contact details, and a summary of research and publications.

You can search our database by keyword (eg cancer) or by name.

Health Sciences expertise database

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