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Contact Details

+64 4 832 3116
Associate Dean (Pacific) and Associate Professor Biomedical / Health Sciences (Immunology)
Dean's Department (Wellington)
Research summary
Immunology, Cancer, Acute Rheumatic Fever, Rheumatic Heart Disease, COVID-19, Pacific health


Dianne Sika-Paotonu is an Associate Professor (Immunology) at the University of Otago, Wellington, and Associate Dean (Pacific) for the Division of Health Sciences, at the University of Otago. She is a Fulbright Scholar, having recently returned from the United States after working as an Immunology Scientist at Harvard University based in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and in the Health Sciences Centre at the University of Oklahoma.

Dianne is an experienced research scientist, educator and science communicator and commentator, teaching, supervising, and mentoring students and holding leadership roles within the tertiary sector for many years. Her areas of research focus include rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, cancer and early diagnosis, health equity and inequities, and infectious diseases, and she has established research collaborations leading as Principal Investigator across multiple projects nationally and internationally working with collaborators in overseas and into the Pacific region and beyond. Dianne’s leadership and scientific contributions to these interdisciplinary research projects are evidence based, equity focused, and inclusivity driven, utilising her Pacific health, scientific and immunological expertise.

Science communication and advocacy

Dianne regularly presents at scientific conferences, and over the years has received national and international awards relating to her research work and science communication efforts. She holds numerous service and leadership responsibilities and contributes to local, national and international groups, committees and boards, functioning as chair and/or convenor for many of these.

Dianne has a long-standing track record of advocacy and engagement efforts with many groups, while seeking to address health inequities in society more generally, as the basis for the scientific work she leads and supports.

PhD Research

Dianne completed her PhD in Biomedical Science specialising in Immunology at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research as a member of the cancer vaccines team undertaking work that explored modification of these vaccines to generate stronger immune responses against cancer. Her work showed that increased numbers of cancer-killing immune cells could be generated when synthetic compounds that mimic infected tissue were incorporated into the cancer vaccine preparation. Her work also highlighted the role of specific sub-populations of immune cells in generating these cancer-killing immune responses.

Dianne’s work overall aimed to improve of the potency of these cancer vaccines for the treatment of all cancers. Dianne also previously worked at the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth Western Australia as the Scientific Lead for the Penicillin Research programme within the Group A Streptococcal Disease team based at the Wesfarmers Centre for Vaccines and Infectious Diseases.


Dianne is an award-winning scientist, Fulbright Scholar, receiving national and international awards for her research work including the Prime Minister's Science Communication Prize, AAW Woman of the Year Award, USA, Liley Medal-Team Award, Cranwell Medal, MacDiarmid New Zealand Young Scientist of the Year – Advancing Human Health & Wellbeing, Colmar Brunton Research Excellence Award, Australasian Society of Immunology BD Science Communication Award, Asia Pacific Science Technology Studies Networks New Contributions to Science Technology & Innovation Award-Indigenous studies, and the Australasian Society of Immunology Buck Memorial Award, among others.

Dianne was also recipient of the Royal Order Award the Most Illustrious Royal Order of Queen Salote Tupou III-Commander, awarded by the late King George Tupou V of Tonga in recognition of scientific achievement.

Academic qualifications

She’s completed a BSc (Physiology), BBMedSc (Molecular Pathology), MBMedSc (1st class Hons - Molecular Pathology), DPH (Public Health), PGDipHELT (Higher Education Learning and Teaching), PGCert (Education & Professional Development), Certificate (Anaesthetic Technology) and PhD (Immunology).


Lawrenson, R., Lao, C., Stanley, J., Kuper-Hommel, M., Campbell, I., Krebs, J., Sika-Paotonu, D., … Stairmand, J., & Gurney, J. (2024). Does diabetes affect systematic treatments for breast cancer? Proceedings of the 47th New Zealand Society for the Study of Diabetes (NZSSD) Annual Scientific Meeting. P1. Retrieved from Conference Contribution - Published proceedings: Abstract

Lawrenson, R., Lao, C., Stanley, J., Teng, A., Kuper-Hommel, M., Campbell, I., Krebs, J., Sika-Paotonu, D., … Gurney, J. (2024). Does diabetes affect breast cancer survival? Cancer Reports, e2040. doi: 10.1002/cnr2.2040 Journal - Research Article

Kvalsvig, A., Brooks, A. E. S., Potter, J. D., Jeffreys, M., Bennett, J., Davies-Payne, D., Kennedy, J., Sika-Paotonu, D., Timu-Parata, C., … Hume, C., … Lorgelly, P., & Baker, M. (2024). Long Covid in Aotearoa NZ: Risk assessment and preventive action urgently needed. The Briefing, (26 March). Retrieved from Journal - Research Other

Teng, A., Stanley, J., Jackson, C., Koea, J., Lao, C., Lawrenson, R., … Sika-Paotonu, D., & Gurney, J. (2024). The growing cancer burden: Age-period-cohort projections in Aotearoa New Zealand 2020-2044. Cancer Epidemiology, 89, 102535. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2024.102535 Journal - Research Article

Lacey, J. A., Bennett, J., James, T. B., Hines, B. S., Chen, T., Lee, D., Sika-Paotonu, D., … Baker, M. G., … Moreland, N. J. (2024). A worldwide population of Streptococcus pyogenes strains circulating among school-aged children in Auckland, New Zealand: A genomic epidemiology analysis. Lancet Regional Health: Western Pacific, 24, 100964. doi: 10.1016/j.lanwpc.2023.100964 Journal - Research Article

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