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Tuesday 8 March 2022 4:16pm

Wellington's Helena Abolins-Thompson is one of three researchers committed to maximising Māori health gains to be awarded the inaugural Māori Early Career Development in Cancer Research Awards.

Helana Abolins-Thompson image
Helana Abolins-Thompson.

The awards are the first-ever offered in collaboration between Hei Āhuru Mōwai (Māori Cancer Research Leadership Group) and Te Kāhui Matepukupuku o Aotearoa (Cancer Society of New Zealand) to address health inequities. The three scholarships are worth $160,000 each over three years of full-time study.

Helena, of Ngāti Toa Rangatira descent and who is studying at Otago University, says she was humbled to be one of the recipients of the cancer research awards.

"This funding is incredibly important to me, and I am so grateful to be a recipient of this scholarship. Having had whānau impacted by cancer myself, the cause is very near and dear to my heart."

While most cancer research has disproportionately focused on non-Māori, Helena's PhD project uses advanced genetic sequencing technologies on tumour samples from Māori in partnership with local iwi and patients themselves in collaboration with the Broad Institute in Boston, USA.

Dr Nina Scott, co-Chair of Hei Āhuru Mōwai, says the assessment panel was impressed with the calibre and quality of the applications they received for the research awards and believed the three recipients' research was remarkable.

"Each of the successful award recipients has a track record of commitment to advancing Māori health aspirations, and their research papers will help in a small way bridge the gap in Māori health equities and shed light on cancer research from a Māori perspective."

Te Kāhui Matepukuku o Aotearoa Tumu Whakarae Lucy Elwood adds: “Our equity charter acknowledges significant inequities are experienced by Māori; in cancer rates, cancer care and cancer outcomes. We hope that with these awards, we can change the underrepresentation of Māori researchers in the cancer space and reduce health inequalities.”

The other two recipients are:

Dr Myra Ruka (Raukawa, Ngā Puhi, and Ngāti Kuri) is a Clinical Haematologist at Waikato Hospital and a PhD student at Auckland University. In her work, she has identified that health system design is a major contributor for unjust and unfair Māori cancer outcomes. Myra's PhD project aims to develop an equity and Tiriti o Waitangi led quality framework for cancer care in Aotearoa.
More information is available here

Irene Kereama-Royal (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Maniapoto) is a researcher based in Auckland and a PhD student at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiarangi. Irene's PhD examines the reasons for mistrust among whānau Māori with participating in genetics research and identifying the potential of genomics health to lift Māori health inequities in cancers.
More information is available here

More information about Helena's PhD project on the Cancer Society website


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