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Our latest and archived media releases and news articles.
2 December 2010
The inaugural HRC Beaven Medal for excellence in translational research was presented to Dr Martin Than, a consultant specialist in Emergency Medicine at the Canterbury District Health Board, for research that will provide an innovative and workable change to the medical decision-making process for patients presenting acutely to Emergency Departments with chest pain that may be due to a heart attack.
The Minister of Health, Hon. Tony Ryall, presented Dr Than with the Beaven Medal at a function to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation in Christchurch on 2 December 2010. Minister Ryall said he was “delighted to present the inaugural Beaven medal to Dr Than in recognition of his innovative research project, which will make a significant contribution towards translational health research.”
The Beaven Medal, named after the late Professor Sir Donald Ward Beaven, KNZM, CBE (1924 – 2009), recognises Sir Don’s long time interest in translating research into clinical practice and will be awarded annually by the HRC.
“The HRC’s new Beaven Medal is a way of ensuring that Sir Don’s incredible life and association with diabetes and translational medical research is remembered,” Mr Ryall said.
“I am confident that Dr Than’s research project will contribute to a primary outcome of improved health service delivery over the short-to-medium term, at local, regional and national levels,” says HRC Chief Executive, Dr Robin Olds.
In a randomised trial, current care will be compared with a new ‘fast-track’ pathway.
Preliminary research suggests that an accelerated pathway with early blood tests in a targeted low-risk group of presenting patients, can be used to rule out the diagnosis of a heart attack approximately 10 hours earlier than with conventional diagnostic assessment. This would allow earlier progression to the next phase of chest pain investigations, prevent unnecessary hospital admissions and facilitate early discharge home. This outcome will be extremely beneficial for patients, who will be reassured earlier that a heart attack has been ruled out and avoid the inconvenience of hospital admission. It also has the potential to change clinical practice in a costeffective way, by reducing unnecessary admissions, duplication of staff activities and pressure upon urgent care services.
“Professor Sir Donald Beaven had a prestigious career, but it was his passion for medical education, medical research and diabetes that he will be most remembered for. His passion for learning will continue to be an inspiration for students and teachers across New Zealand and I hope that it will inspire many of our health researchers to follow in Sir Don’s footsteps,” said Mr Robert Stewart, Chair of the HRC Board.
16 November 2010
More than NZ$2 million has been awarded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR, Singapore) to support research into cancer through a joint research initiative. The initiativesupports applicants to engage in research activities that will produce gains for New Zealand and Singapore, and offer significant leverage to build New Zealand’s health research capacity.
The joint fund was open to proposals from New Zealand and Singapore-based public research organisations, including universities and institutes supported by the HRC and A*STAR. In New Zealand, the fund was also open to companies doing research including Crown Research Institutes, research associations and private companies.
The partnership is part of the HRC’s work on the development of international funding partnerships with other countries to facilitate research programmes of joint interest.
Details of funding offered to the research team in the HRC/A*STAR joint initiative are as follows:
YB-1 interacting partners in breast cancer progression
Principal Investigators: Professor Antony Braithwaite(University of Otago) and Professor BoonHuat Bay (NationalUniversity of Singapore)
Project summary: Y-box binding protein 1 (YB-1) is commonly elevated in many human cancers. The cancer-promoting properties of YB-1 are associated with increased resistance to drugs, tumour growth and poor patient outcome. Control of these processes takes place in the nucleus. The precise molecular nature of the active cancer-promoting subtype of YB-1 present in the nucleus is unknown. Identification of this species will provide the basis for a specific and highly prognostic indicator. This proposal, which builds on our recently published analyses of endogenous YB-1, aims to identify the molecular nature of this cancer-promoting subtype of YB-1 and to determine how it functions. From this knowledge we will develop an antibody that specifically recognises only the nuclear YB-1 species and establish this species as a prognostic indicator for human cancers.
Oestrogen-dependent regulation of gene expression by cohesin in breast cancer
Principal Investigators: Dr Julia Horsfield(University of Otago) and Dr Yijun Ruan(Genome Institute of Singapore)
Project summary: Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women worldwide. About 70% of breast cancers are positive for oestrogen receptor alpha (ER) and are dependent on oestrogen for proliferation. ER-positive breast cancers are treated with anti-oestrogens such as tamoxifen, but resistance to anti-oestrogens is common. Understanding the action of oestrogen is essential for developing new therapies. Cohesin is a multi-unit protein involved in both cell division and gene expression. Importantly, cohesin colocalizes with ERon chromosomes, and controls expression of the oestrogen-responsive cancer-causing gene, c-MYC. Since c-MYC overexpression causes resistance to anti-oestrogen therapy, targeting cohesin could overcome endocrine resistance in breast cancer.We will determine how cohesin contributes to genome organization by ERand identify specific cancer-causing genes that are regulated by both ERand cohesin. We will focus on c-MYC in particular. We expect to identify new pathways for future therapy in ER–positivebreast cancers.
Molecular diagnostic test for the prediction of survival and drug response in ovarian cancer
Principal Investigators: Associate Professor Parry Guilford(University of Otago) and Professor Jean Paul Thiery(Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, A*STAR)
Project summary: Ovarian cancer is a devastating disease with dismal survival rates. The main method of treatment uses platinum-based drugs in addition to surgery. These drugs are well tolerated by patients and have an initial response rate of over 70%. However, most patients eventually develop resistance to the drugs and succumb to the disease. We believe that resistance to these drugs is induced by a phenomena called the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). EMT results in cells becoming more mobile and resistant to cell death. We propose to develop a test to quantify the EMT in samples from ovarian cancer patients. This test will be able to be used to predict which patients are likely to benefit from platinum drug treatment, preventing the under or over-treatment of patients. Moreover, the test would be an important aid in the on-going development of drugs that aim to reverse the EMT and resensitise patients to platinum therapy.
Epigenomics of liver tumour induction and progression: use of a zebrafish model
Principal Investigators: Professor Ian Morison(University of Otago) and Dr Sinnakaruppan Mathavan(Genome Institute of Singapore)
Project summary: Global epidemiology of liver cancer reveals a high prevalence in South-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Molecular changes in liver tumour can be studied using human tumour samples or cancer cell lines. However, to study the molecular mechanisms of the induction and progression of the disease, there is a need for a vertebrate model. Zebrafish has been shown to be an ideal model for this approach. We have established zebrafish lines that can produce liver tumours by oncogene transgenics or carcinogens. Using these lines, we can monitor the induction and progression of tumours and analyse the molecular changes during their progression. We will use this model to analyse epigenetic changes (DNA methylation and histone modifications) by using established techniques (ChIP-sequencing and genome-wide bisulphite methylation sequencing). This project will help us to understand the mechanisms of liver tumour leading to the development of molecular markers and therapeutics for the disease.
11 November 2010
The HRC's Liley Medal was awarded on Wednesday 10 November 2010 to Professor Stephen Robertson at the Science Honours Dinner in Christchurch.
Professor Robertson, from the Dunedin School of Medicine at the University of Otago in Dunedin, has been honoured for his outstanding research which demonstrates the critical nature of developmental timing of key genetic events and will encourage new ways of thinking about cancer.
His research, published in the journal Nature Genetics (2009), is the first to seriously question current dogma that inherited mutations in a tumour suppressor gene predispose to cancer. This work was conceived, led and performed in Dunedin, and subsequently involved the coordination of a large cohort of international collaborators.
Cancer dogma has been that a mutation in a cancer-causing gene, regardless of whether you are born with it, or acquire it later in life, has the same end result – a predisposition to malignancy.
Professor Robertson’s paper presents a dramatic exception to what was considered to be this fundamental rule. It had been known that acquiring a mutation in the cancer gene, WTX, early in childhood is associated with malignancy – in this case, a childhood cancer called Wilms tumour. Remarkably, Professor Robertson’s study showed that being born with a WTX mutation results in a developmental bone disease, rather than cancer.
To date, ‘space’ and ‘time’ restraints on tumour development in cancer have been poorly understood, and most research activity has been directed to just understanding which genes, when altered, can lead to cancer. Professor Robertson’s research produced a novel and unexpected finding that indicates that the same genetic event, separated only by space and time, can have dramatically different outcomes. In this case, that being born with a mutation in the cancer gene WTX does not result in the childhood kidney cancer Wilms tumour, whereas acquired mutation in WTX is known to be associated with tumour formation.
His finding charts a way forward for understanding complex disease processes at a time when there is an overwhelming amount of complex genomic information available.
HRC Chief Executive, Dr Robin, Olds said: “Professor Robertson’s nominated paper was published in 2009 in one of the highest ranking journals in the world, and sees him, as senior author, complete a rare trifecta – three papers in five years in Nature Genetics.”
- Professor Stephen Robertson is the Child Health Research Foundation Professor of Paediatric Genetics at the University of Otago in Dunedin.
- He was appointed as the Inaugural Curekids Professor in late 2002 and established the Clinical Genetics Laboratory. (The Child Health Research Foundation launched an initiative in 2002 to establish a chair at the University of Otago that was dedicated to aspects of child health research).
- Professor Robertson has pioneered study of the genetic determinants of congenital malformations in children.