Friday 9 July 2021 8:33am
Dr Sarah Diermeier has carved out a novel niche that complements New Zealand’s cancer research landscape. Her excellence and achievements have been recognised with an Early Career Award for Distinction in Research from the University of Otago.
“Dr Diermeier is an absolutely outstanding individual who has proven her research excellence on many levels including the extraordinary achievement of forming her own company. She is incredibly energetic and collegial. She provides much inspiration to our postgraduate students and is an excellent role model for all early career researchers,” says Professor Sally McCormick, Head of the Department of Biochemistry.
Soon after her appointment as a lecturer to Otago’s Department of Biochemistry in 2018, Dr Diermeier was awarded a prestigious Rutherford Discovery Fellowship. Since then, she has rapidly developed her research programme on understanding the role of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) in cancer with a focus on targeting them for the development of new therapeutics.
“What motivates me in my research is finding innovative solutions for real-world problems, to actually make a difference to people’s lives. The aspirational goal of my career is to develop new therapeutics that improve cancer patient survival and wellbeing,” Dr Diermeier says.
She is committed to having her research translated into the clinical and commercial space. Her successes include leading the formation of a new company, Amaroq Therapeutics, securing the biggest investment Otago Innovation has ever received ($14 million). The company has been formed based on Dr Diermeier’s expertise in lncRNAs and her ability to demonstrate their utility for targeting various in forms of cancer.
Dr Diermeier’s success in obtaining funding also includes a Cancer Society of New Zealand project grant and a Marsden Fast-Start grant, as well as three University-based grants. This success at fundraising, combined with her ability to attract postgraduate students, has seen her rapidly build a vibrant and successful research team. She provides excellent hands-on mentorship to her students, one of the many reasons her lab is so popular.
A major feature of her research programme has been the establishment of cutting-edge research techniques and capabilities, which she has brought to the department and wider University community. She has also forged a new group of scientists and clinicians across the country to work together on pre-clinical research models for various cancers.
Dr Diermeier has also been very active in publishing methods to analyse and screen IncRNAs and reviewing their utility for cancer treatments. Last year this included a high-impact publication in Nature Communications, identifying a key IncRNA involved in breast cancer progression.