Cancer 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.
- Cell Transformation: Braithwaite Laboratory
- Chromosome Structure & Development: Horsfield Laboratory
- Developmental Genetics and Pathology: Eccles Laboratory
- Epigenetics and Cancer: Morison Laboratory
- Immunotherapy: Young Laboratory
- Molecular Oncology: Cunliffe Laboratory
- Molecular Pathogenesis: Hung and Slatter Laboratory
- Viral Pathogenesis: Hibma Laboratory
Our 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.
We 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.
- 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
Translational 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:
- Personalised medicine
- Inherited and environmental cancer risk
- Childhood cancers
- Diagnostic tools
- Cancer and our immune system
- Drug development
Our 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.
Our 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
The 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:
- Cardiovascular disease
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
We 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.
We 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.
The 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.
Our 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.
Current 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.
In 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.
Many 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 signalling pathways.
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.
The 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.