The Mackenzie Cancer Research Group is a multidisciplinary research group that comprises experts in genetics and proteomics, cell culture and in vivo models, clinical pharmacology and medical oncology.
Cancer risk and genetics
Genomic technologies offer powerful approaches for obtaining detailed genetic information.
While these technologies offer potential to transform clinical care, they also present future challenges for patients and their doctors.
Deciding who should receive genetic testing, and interpreting the test results, are two major dilemmas for health care professionals.
Our laboratory aims to address these issues by using genomic and transcriptomic-based methods to identify and evaluate genetic changes that cause cancer, including breast, ovarian and colorectal cancer.
- The New Zealand Familial Breast Cancer Study
- Clinical evaluation of genetic variants in breast/ovarian cancer susceptibility genes (Eg. BRCA1 and BRCA2)
- Identification of breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility and modifier genes
- Identification of prognostic gene markers in colorectal cancer
Associate Professor Logan Walker and Professor Bridget Robinson
Cancer, obesity and exercise
Physical inactivity and related obesity are modifiable risk factors for a range of cancers, and we are particularly interested in breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.
We have used an in vitro transwell co-culture model to study interactions between human primary breast adipocytes (fat cells) and breast cancer cells, and used discovery mass spectrometry to identify proteins differentially secreted by cancer-associated adipocytes and breast cancer cells after transwell co-culture.
We have also developed several in vivo models to study the effect of dyslipidaemia and exercise on tumour physiology. Changes in tumour hypoxia and perfusion, as well as the immune-response, are areas of investigation.
Alongside our laboratory studies, we have collaborative clinical studies underway to understand the impact of obesity and physical activity on patients with breast cancer.
Associate Professor Margaret Currie, Research Professor Gabi Dachs, Professor Bridget Robinson, Dr Matthew Strother, Dr Elisabeth Phillips
Cancer and vitamin C and iron
We have a long-standing interest in tumour hypoxia and gene regulation. This lack of oxygen triggers survival factors in cancer cells, including the transcription factor HIF-1, and induce an aggressive tumour phenotype.
In our collaboration with Margreet Vissers (CFRR), we have shown that vitamin C is able to dampen this aggressive phenotype via control of HIF-1 in cell culture and in vivo models.
We have also seen an association between HIF-1 and vitamin C levels in a range of human cancers (from the Cancer Society Tissue Bank), and patient outcome. Cancers of current interest include breast, colorectal, kidney, endometrial and brain cancer. We are interested in finding out what factors in tumours determine vitamin C accumulation.
We also want to know how and when vitamin C may be used in the clinical situation, and we have investigator-led clinical trials underway to accumulate robust data on high-dose vitamin C infusions in patients with cancer.
Both vitamin C and ferrous iron function as cofactors for a super-family of enzymes that regulate the hypoxic response and methylation patterns in genomic DNA. We now want to investigate the role of iron in cancer.
Associate Professor Gabi Dachs, Dr Elisabeth Phillips, Professor Bridget Robinson and Professor Margreet Vissers
Our funding sources
We receive funding to carry out our research from:
- Health Research Council NZ
- Mackenzie Charitable Foundation
- Cancer Society of New Zealand
- Cancer Society Canterbury/West Coast Division
- University of Otago Research Fund
- Canterbury Medical Research Foundation
- UOC Cancer Fellowships
- Royal Society of New Zealand
- Maurice & Phyllis Paykel Trust
- Otago School of Medicine Trust Funds
- Cancer Research Trust
- New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation
- Breast Cancer Cure