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A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


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Academic background
Health Sciences
Host campus
Pathology and Biomedical Science (Christchurch)
Dr Elisabeth Phillips, Associate Professor Margaret Currie


When a man presents with prostate cancer it is difficult to tell whether his cancer is aggressive and needs immediate treatment to prevent it growing and spreading, or whether it is likely to remain dormant and may never need treatment. Recent research has shown fat cells (adipocytes) surrounding the prostate can stimulate tumour progression, and we have identified a panel of proteins released by cancer-associated fat cells that promote tumour survival, growth and spread. The overall aim of this pilot study is to test this panel of marker proteins to see if they can be used to distinguish between dormant and aggressive prostate cancers, and ultimately help men with prostate cancer to undergo fewer unnecessary treatments.

We have constructed tissue microarrays using formalin-fixed paraffin embedded prostate tumour samples collected via He Taonga Tapu (The Cancer Society Tissue Bank). From each prostate tumour sample, we have mined two cores (each 1.2mm diam) from the tumour region, and two cores from adjacent stromal regions (where prostate cancer cells grow into a fat cell rich environment). We now plan to use immunohistochemical staining and image analysis to determine the localisation and relative level of protein expression for each of the panel of protein markers that we have previously identified. This laboratory data will be analysed together with patient clinical and tumour pathology data collated from medical records.

We are looking for a motivated student to help analyse our prostate cancer tissue microarrays. The BBiomedSc Honours student will work alongside Dr Phillips but will be responsible for assaying specific markers in the panel. During this Honours degree the student will learn immunohistochemical staining and image analysis techniques. Since this BBiomedSc Hons project is part of Dr Phillips ongoing research program it will likely contribute to at least one publication. Importantly, we are hoping to attract a student who may be interested in continuing as a PhD student investigating the role of cancer-associated adipocytes in tumour progression and resistance to therapy.

Preferred student expertise:

An enthusiastic science student with an interest in cancer research who has some previous laboratory experience.

Further information:

This is one of a number of projects on offer for the 2023 intake of BBiomedSc(Hons) at the University of Otago, Christchurch campus.

Bachelor of Biomedical Sciences with Honours (BBiomedSc(Hons)) at the University of Otago, Christchurch
Dr Elisabeth Phillips' profile
Mackenzie Cancer Research Group website
Department of Pathology and Biomedical Science website


Elisabeth Phillips
Tel +64 3 364 0557

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