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A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Close date
Saturday, 25 February 2023
Academic background
Health Sciences
Host campus
Pathology and Biomedical Science (Christchurch)
Dr Elisabeth Phillips, Associate Professor Margaret Currie


Breast cancer is the most frequent female cancer in Aotearoa. In 2019, there were 3,451 female breast cancer registrations (95.7 per 100,000), of which 484 were wahine Māori. Despite significant advances in the treatment of breast cancers, it is estimated that 10% of women with breast cancer will develop metastatic disease, and ~ 75% of these will not survive.

Obesity is a risk factor in many cancers, including breast cancer. There is strong evidence that obesity may worsen cancer prognosis, progression, recurrence and quality of life, although mechanisms underlying this are complex and poorly understood. In women with breast cancer, obesity is associated with a more advanced disease at diagnosis, increased risk of recurrence, metastasis, and poorer overall survival in patients with breast cancer, and obesity may reduce overall survival rates by 33-41%.

Rates of obesity in Aotearoa are rising after being stable for a decade, with a significant increase between 2019/20 and 2020/21 for women (31.9% to 35.9%). The prevalence of obesity among adults varies by ethnic group, with the highest prevalence amongst Pasifika (71.3%), followed by Māori (50.8%), then European/ Other (31.9%). The most recent data shows that 68.1% of all New Zealanders are overweight or obese.

We are looking for a motivated student to help set up a novel 3D model of breast cancer using human breast cancer cells (HER2 overexpressing) and human adipocytes (fat cells), so we can study the localised effects of non-obese and obese fat cells on breast cancer cell invasion, migration and resistance to chemotherapy. This Honours project is part of Dr Phillips ongoing research program and 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 in this cross-disciplinary research area (breast cancer research and tissue engineering – 'Modelling and modifying the tumour microenvironment').

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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