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DSM staff profile

Dr Heather Cunliffe

QualificationsBSc(Hons) PhD
PositionSenior Lecturer
Research summaryTranslational biomarker discovery in breast and ovarian cancer
  • PATH 302 Cancer Biology
  • MICN 301 Medicine Third Year
  • GENE 360 Special Topics in Genetics
  • GENE 411 Current Topics in Genetics
  • Member, Health Research South Board
  • Member, Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG)
  • Active Member, American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)
  • Member, AACR-Women in Cancer Research
  • Member, New Zealand Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Clinical correlative research interests: Leveraging genomic technologies to define biologically relevant changes in genomic content resulting from neoadjuvant therapy in evidence-based clinical trials – Current collaboration with Mayo Clinic, Arizona, USA.


The focus of Dr Cunliffe's research is the discovery and validation of biomarkers that will impact therapeutic decision-making and improve treatment outcomes for breast cancer and ovarian cancer patients. Her laboratory leverages genomic, biochemical, and cell-biologic approaches to define and target the pathobiology driving malignant progression in treatment-refractory tumour contexts.

Current areas of interest include:

  • Therapeutic targeting in triple negative breast cancer
  • Defining mechanisms of endocrine resistance
  • The molecular underpinnings of Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Recalcitrant subtypes of ovarian cancer including small cell tumours
  • Mechanisms of inherent/acquired chemoresistance in epithelial ovarian cancer

Dr Cunliffe also has an interest and significant expertise in biospecimen science to empower genomics-enabled medicine.


Dr Cunliffe completed her undergraduate training at Victoria University of Wellington and received her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Otago. She then trained as a Postdoctoral Fellow from 1999–2004 in the Cancer Genetics Branch of the National Human Genome Research Institute, at the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, MD, USA. In 2004, Dr Cunliffe joined the research faculty at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), a not-for-profit biomedical research institute in Phoenix Arizona, where she headed the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Research Unit for 10 years prior to returning to the University of Otago.

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