Funded Projects 2010

21 grants totalling $1,069,460 (including March 2010 PDA round)

Auckland 8
Christchurch 2
Hamilton 1
Dunedin 3
Wanganui 1
Wellington 4
Boston, USA (Postdoctoral Fellowship) 1
Vancouver, Canada (Clinical Training Fellowship) 1

Postgraduate Scholarship

Mr Francis Hunter, University of Auckland, Auckland. $91,000
Exploiting hypoxia and DNA repair defects for treatment of triple-negative breast cancer.
An aggressive and prevalent form of breast cancer, known as triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), is associated with poor prognosis and limited treatment options. Two pervasive features of TNBC are hypoxia (low oxygen) within tumour tissue and defects in error-free DNA repair machinery. A panel of hypoxia-activated prodrugs (HAP) developed at the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre simultaneously exploit tumour hypoxia and DNA repair deficiency to selectively kill cancer cells. This project will explore the potential use of HAP as a novel treatment for TNBC, with the objective of working toward clinical trials for these agents in human cancer patients.

Murray Jackson Clinical Fellowship (Medical)

Dr Andrew Graydon, University of British Columbia, Canada $110,000
Advanced clinical training in musculoskeletal oncology

Andrew Graydon, a NZ trained Orthopaedic Surgeon is undertaking subspecialty training and experience in Sarcoma treatment at Vancouver General and BC Children’s Hospitals in Vancouver, Canada. Sarcomas are rare but often lethal tumours, that arise in the bones and joints of both adults and children. Treatment of these tumours is highly specialised, with many innovative new techniques improving survival and quality of life following treatment. Following the fellowship Dr Graydon will return to work at Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland, where he will join the Paediatric Oncology team introducing some of these new techniques in treating children from around NZ.

John Gavin Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr Kristin Brown, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Boston, USA. $137,000
Isoform-specific targets of Akt in breast cancer metastasis

The aggressive behaviour of malignant breast cancers is determined by a complex array of signalling pathways that regulate cell growth, survival and invasive migration. One of the most frequently deregulated pathways in breast cancer involves a protein called Akt. This research aims to explore the mechanisms by which different members of the Akt family can either promote or inhibit the spread of breast cancer cells to distant tissues. This research will permit the identification of critical downstream mediators of the Akt signalling pathway thereby enabling the development of targeted therapies for the treatment of breast cancer.

Professional Development Awards

Dr Cherie Blenkiron, University of Auckland, $4,181
To attend Keystone Symposia meeting titled ‘microRNAs and Non-Coding RNAs and Cancer’ in Banff, Alberta, Canada, Feb 2011


Barbara Joppa, Auckland District Health Board, $2,374
To attend the Trans-Tasman Radiation Oncology Group (TROG) Study Coordinator Workshop and Annual Scientific Meeting 2011, to be held in Adelaide Australia from the 13th April -16th April 2011.


Helen Morrin
, University of Otago, Christchurch, $3,500

To Attend the International Society of Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) 2011 Annual Meeting, May 15-18, 2011, Washington, DC. USA.


Dr Lois Surgenor
, University of Otago, Dunedin, $5,000

To attend the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (‘APOS’) 7th Annual Conference, Anaheim, California in February 2011 and Site visit to Psychology Service, Haematology Department 4th Floor North Wing, St Thomas' Hospital, London

Research Project Grants

Dr Cherie Blenkiron, University of Auckland, Auckland. $69,304
MicroRNAs and YB-1; a dangerous liason in cancer biology?

YB-1 is a protein found in breast tumours that promotes their growth and high levels are linked with poor outcomes for patients. YB-1 binds to RNAs, the product of our genes. microRNAs are a small type of RNA that have recently been associated with the development and progression of cancers. We would like to investigate whether YB-1 controls tumour growth through interaction with these microRNAs, affecting their function. We hope to show an interaction between these molecules that will help in the development of novel therapies or diagnostic tests for breast cancer.


Dr Susan Brooks
, Department of Radiation Oncology, Auckland District Health Board, Auckland. $17,000

A Phase III trial of adjuvant chemotherapy following chemoradiation as primary treatment for locally advanced cervical cancer compared to chemoradiation alone: THE OUTBACK TRIAL

This study will be comparing the treatment of patients with locally advanced cervical cancer. Half of the patients enrolled in the study will receive the standard pelvis radiation and chemotherapy combination and half will receive the standard treatment and an additional four courses of 3-weekly chemotherapy. The study is aiming to determine whether there is an improvement in survival from additional chemotherapy and whether the side effects and quality of life on the study are acceptable so that this may become the standard of cervical cancer care in the future.


Dr Joanne Harvey
, School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, Welington. $74,477

Improving Zampanolide

Anti-cancer drugs generally target processes inside cancer cells that allow them to continue to divide. Microtubules, which form the framework for much of the cell division machinery, have proven to be a clinically important drug target. Many microtubule-targeting agents have their origins in natural products; however the original natural products are not optimised for human cancer therapy. Consequently, it is important to make and evaluate variants which increase our knowledge of the way the compound works and improve its anti-cancer function. This project will make analogues of the natural product zampanolide, a microtubule stabilising agent isolated from marine sponges.


Dr Julia Horsfield
, Department of Pathology, University of Otago, Dunedin, $66,647

Oestrogen dependent regulation of gene expression by cohesin in breast cancer

Every year, 2300 New Zealand women develop breast cancer. About 70% of breast cancers are positive for oestrogen receptor (ERa). ERa-positive breast cancers are treated with anti-oestrogens such as tamoxifen, but drug resistance is common. Cohesin is a protein involved in both cell division and gene expression. Importantly, cohesin controls the oestrogen-responsive cancer-causing gene, MYC. Too much MYC causes resistance to anti-oestrogen therapy, and targeting cohesin may overcome this resistance. We will determine how cohesin contributes to the cancer role of oestrogen and identify cancer genes controlled by both ERaand cohesin. Our results may lead to new breast cancer therapies.


Dr Stephen Jamieson
, Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre, University of Auckland $31,818

Validation of AKR1C3 as a therapeutic target in castration-resistant prostate cancer

In 2007, prostate cancer was the most commonly registered cancer in NZ. In many cases, treatment is limited to androgen deprivation therapy; however, tumours usually develop resistance by producing their own androgen supply. For prostate cancer treatment to be effective, new therapies are required to overcome this resistance. We have developed new chemotherapy drugs that inhibit an enzyme (AKR1C3) involved in androgen production to prevent androgen-dependent tumour progression. We plan to test these new drugs in cellular models of resistant prostate cancer to determine their effectiveness against tumour cell survival and to identify candidate drugs for clinical trials.


Dr Michael Jameson
, Division of Oncology, University of Auckland, Hamilton, $13,375

The Diet Intervention in Bladder Cancer Study (DIBS): A Pilot Trial of Diet Change for Superficial Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer is common and often recurs, meaning that patients have to have checks at regular intervals for years on end. A potential means of decreasing the number of bladder cancer patients who recur or progress is diet change. Population studies strongly suggest that diets high in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and related vegetables decreased the risk of bladder cancer. In this study we are trying intensive coaching by internet (using Skype) to see if this will increase patients’ consumption of cruciferous vegetable.


Dr Frederik Pruijn
, Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre, University of Auckland. $78,911

3D Imaging of Tumour Hypoxia

The blood supply in tumours is chaotic and inefficient and this results in areas of low oxygen that lead to more aggressive tumours and are treatment resistant. This projects aims to develop a method to make three-dimensional images of low oxygen areas in tumours in relation to blood vessels at the microscopic level and that allows study of how the picture changes over time. This may help to understand how tumours behave and how they, and thus the patient, respond to therapy.


Dr Graham Stevens
, Division of Oncology, University of Auckland. $38,237

Development of a tool to predict lung function following radiotherapy for lung cancer

Lung cancer is mainly due to smoking and is the most common cause of cancer death in NZ. In many cases the patient cannot be cured by surgery or radiation, because the lungs have also been damaged by smoking, causing emphysema. The aim of this project is to develop a tool to predict whether individual patients with lung cancer will tolerate the radiation treatment necessary to cure the cancer without leaving the patient with insufficient breathing capacity. This tool, which has been developed in NZ, will be a world first and will be based on sophisticated computer modelling of individual patients.


Dr Bridget Stocker
, Malaghan Institute, Wellington. $66,433

The trehalose dimycolates as potent immunomodulators in cancer therapy

The immune system has a powerful role in the control of disease, yet often with cancer patients, the inherent immune response is not sufficient to control tumour growth. Macrophages are key immune cells that, on the one hand, are able to lead to tumour destruction, yet on the other hand, can also promote an increase in tumour burden. To convert the dysfunctional, tumour-promoting macrophages to ones that can be used to fight tumours, we are developing small molecules that will ‘switch’ the macrophage to an activated state that will lead to tumour regression.


Dr Sarah Young
, Department of Pathology,University of Otago, Dunedin. $45,454

Using virus-like particles to fight cancer

The development of vaccines is a significant strategy in the war against cancer. This project aims to develop anticancer vaccines using harmless virus shells, termed virus-like particles (VLP) to deliver immunizing tumour peptides. The peptides will be derived from human papilloma virus (the causative agent of cervical cancer) and melanoma. Both of these cancers are a major health problem in New Zealand. We also intend to determine whether we can delay the progression of pre-existing cancers with this new VLP. VLP vaccines that work in mice will be tested on human cells to initiate translation of this work to the clinic.

Special Purpose Grants

Ms Karen Anderson, Hospice Wanganui, Wanganui
Purchase of specialist palliative care books, journals and manuals. $2,692.

To continue to achieve these high standards of excellence here at Hospice Wanganui, we are applying to Genesis Oncology Trust for a grant of $2,692-64 to cover the cost of the latest updated books, manuals and journals of palliative care, latest education and discoveries in cancer research, professional development and cancer treatment and treatment of the terminally ill, both in New Zealand and overseas, that will be of tremendous assistance to our medical doctors and nursing staff to be able to maintain and increase the standard of excellence of care required here at our hospice.


Dr Mary Schumacher, Hospice New Zealand, Wellington. $25,520

Genesis Oncology Trust palliative care breakfast lecture series

Now in its 8th year, the Genesis Oncology Trust Lecture Series continues to provide a low cost and easily accessible palliative care education opportunity. Delivered via teleconference, the eleven lecture series is attended by on average over 250 people each month, more than 50 sites throughout the country are registered to hold the series. Thanks to the generosity of the Genesis Oncology Trust the lectures continue to be available without charge to registered participants. The goal for 2011 is to increase participation in the series, reaching into the aged care sector and developing rural area sites.


Dr Graham Stevens
, MelNet Conference. $5,000

Melanoma Summit 2010: Genesis Oncology Trust Sponsorship

New Zealand health professionals will gather at Te Papa in Wellington on 11 March 2011 for the second national Melanoma Summit. The Summit will provide a unique and important opportunity for professionals working in all areas of melanoma control to be informed of recent developments and to identify priorities for action. The programme will include four international experts, speakers on NZ innovations and workshops on prevention, diagnosis, research and consumer action. New Zealand has one of the highest melanoma incidence rates in the world. The Summit will provide an important opportunity for professionals to work more closely to reduce its incidence and impact.


Dr Peter Sykes
, Department of Obstetrics and Genecology, University of Otago, Christchurch. $17,504

Partial funding (0.3FTE) of a Gynaecology Cancer Research Nurse. Christchurch Women’s Hospital

The gynaecological cancer unit at Christchurch Women’s Hospital provides services for women throughout the South Island of New Zealand. Participating in international clinical research enables us to maintain treatments at the best international standards. Our research also answers questions relevant to New Zealand women. We also support collaborating researchers who are assessing new tests used in screening and prevention of cervical cancer, understanding cancer growth and developing a new tests for gynaecological cancers. Clinical research can only be performed in the presence of a suitable infrastructure. The research nurse/study coordinator position performs an essential role in managing and coordinating research activities and obtaining participant informed consent.

April 2010 Professional Development Award Grant round

This year we have funded many talented individuals from all over New Zealand. We wish them well in their endeavours to reduce the incidences of cancer and improve cancer treatment nationwide.

A total of $83,384 was distributed this round.