The 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.
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
The 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.
The 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.
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.
The 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
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.
Exercise 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.
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
The Health Inequalities Research Programme is a longstanding programme of research hosted by the Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington. HIRP encompasses a series of research projects including the New Zealand Census Mortality and CancerTrends Study (NZCMS/CT), the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, and the Virtual Health Information Network (VHIN). The aim of HIRP is to capitalise on New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) to provide information to influence and support policies and programmes that will reduce inequalities in health.
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.
The 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).
The 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.
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 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
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.
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.
The 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.
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.