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DSM staff profile

Dr Heather Cunliffe

PositionSenior Lecturer
DepartmentDepartment of Pathology (DSM)
QualificationsBSc(Hons) PhD
Research summaryTranslational biomarker discovery in breast and ovarian cancer
  • GENE 360 Special Topics in Genetics
  • GENE 411 Current Topics in Genetics (Course Convenor)
  • MELS 304 Principles of Pathology
  • MICN 201 Medicine Second Year
  • MICN 301 Medicine Third Year
  • PATH 301 Advanced Pathology
  • PATH 302 Cancer Biology (Course Convenor)
  • 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


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.

Additional details


Hoppe, R., Fan, P., Büttner, F., Winter, S., Tyagi, A. K., Cunliffe, H., … Brauch, H. (2016). Profiles of miRNAs matched to biology in aromatase inhibitor resistant breast cancer. Oncotarget, 7(44), 71235-71254. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.12103

Witkowski, L., Goudie, C., Ramos, P., Boshari, T., Brunet, J.-S., Karnezis, A. N., … Cunliffe, H., … Foulkes, W. D. (2016). The influence of clinical and genetic factors on patient outcome in small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type. Gynecologic Oncology, 141, 454-460. doi: 10.1016/j.ygyno.2016.03.013

Necela, B. M., Crozier, J. A., Andorfer, C. A., Lewis-Tuffin, L., Kachergus, J. M., Geiger, X. J., … Cunliffe, H. E., … Perez, E. A. (2015). Folate receptor-α (FOLR1) expression and function in triple negative tumors. PLoS ONE, 10(3), e0122209. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0122209

Barrett, M. T., Anderson, K. S., Lenkiewicz, E., Andreozzi, M., Cunliffe, H. E., Klassen, C. L., … Pockaj, B. A. (2015). Genomic amplification of 9p24.1 targeting JAK2, PD-L1, and PD-L2 is enriched in high-risk triple negative breast cancer. Oncotarget, 6(28). doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.4494

Fan, P., Cunliffe, H. E., Maximov, P. Y., Agboke, F. A., McDaniel, R. E., Zou, X., … Jordan, V. C. (2015). Integration of downstream signals of insulin-like growth factor-1 receptor by endoplasmic reticulum stress for estrogen-induced growth or apoptosis in breast cancer cells. Molecular Cancer Research, 13(10), 1367-1376. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.mcr-14-0494