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The Otago Myeloma Research Unit (OMRU) is a multifaceted research programme that capitalises on unique New Zealand opportunities together with the University of Otago's strengths. Our goals are:

  • To describe the epidemiological features of myeloma in New Zealand
  • To explore the genetics, epigenetics, and molecular features of myeloma that can be used to provide diagnostic and therapeutic advances for myeloma
  • To establish national networks, databases, and tissue resources that are essential to underpin future molecular studies and national studies or trials in myeloma

The Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand website has information for myeloma patients and their families

Current projects

Myeloma epidemiology in New Zealand

There are over 300 new cases of myeloma diagnosed in New Zealand each year. Like many cancers myeloma is predominantly a disease of older age. The incidence rates of myeloma in New Zealand are similar to those in Australia and North America, and considerably higher than those in Asian countries.  Like many blood cancers, the incidence of myeloma is higher in males than females. Preliminary data based on small number of cases suggest the incidence of myeloma in Māori is 1.4 times higher than in the general population, and there may also be higher rates of incidence among Pacific peoples in New Zealand.

Cancer Registry data will be examined in detail to determine the current incidence of, and mortality and survival from, myeloma as well as recent trends in New Zealand. Age, sex, ethnic, and regional variation will also be examined.

The Myeloma and Related Disease Registry (MRDR)

The Myeloma and Related Disease Registry (MRDR) is a comprehensive database held at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. It is used to store clinical and health-related information about patients diagnosed with myeloma or related diseases from multiple centres in Australia and New Zealand. There is agreement among New Zealand haematologists that the best option for a national database can be achieved by joining the MRDR.

The OMRU will co-ordinate data collection and entry in Otago and Southland. It will also work with other New Zealand centres to gather national and regional information about myeloma.

The MRDR's aims are:

  • Monitoring trends in incidence, mortality, and survival of myeloma and related diseases
  • Ensuring access to care
  • Benchmarking outcomes and factors
  • Providing a resource for clinical trials and research

Use of circulating DNA as a biomarker for myeloma

In the plasma of circulating blood there are fragments of DNA, most of which is derived from normal blood cells. However in cancer, including myeloma, some of the circulating DNA comes from dying cancer cells. We have identified differences in the methylation of DNA from myeloma cells compared to normal blood cells. Methylation is a method for regulating gene expression by adding or removing certain chemical tags to DNA. We plan to use these methylation differences to track and measure the progression of myeloma and its response to treatment.

Genetic answers from familial myeloma

There is an awareness among haemotologists in New Zealand that there are families with multiple members affected by myeloma. The study of these families has the potential to reveal key genetic mutations that predispose some people to developing myeloma.

The project aims to:

  • Record instances of familial myeloma nationwide
  • Collect peripheral blood, saliva, DNA, or previous bone marrow biopsy samples from participants and their affected family members
  • Perform whole-genome or whole-exome sequencing of multiple individuals from affected families to identify candidate mutations

Our people

Professor Ian MorisonProfessor

Dr Mary Jane SneydSenior Research Fellow

Mr Rob WeeksSenior Research Fellow

Dr Kern Chai Haematology Registrar

Katrin Buerkle Research Administrator

Useful links

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