Funded Research

Li Family Cancer Research Fund

The purpose of the fund was to directly encourage cancer related research focusing on improving health outcomes while reducing inequalities for all New Zealanders by engaging strongly with the community at all levels.

One of the key aspects of the Centre for Cancer Research is to link and grow relationships between the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and the District Health Board research staff and, while not essential, the Li Family Cancer research fund is intended to encourage researchers from both organisations to work together by funding research collaborations.

A number of longstanding research relationships of this nature already exist and this fund will strengthen these relationships by providing additional grant funding. In addition, we would like to support new and emerging partnerships by providing seed grant funding to facilitate the development of new research collaborations related to translational research opportunities that should improve success in winning a variety of competitive national and international research grants, such as the Health Research Council project and programme grants.

The successful applicants to the 2020 Centre for Cancer Research Li Family Research grant round were:

The Li Family

Prof Cristin G Print – Cancer Molecular Screening and Therapeutics (MoST) – activating genomic-enabled cancer trials for New Zealand.



The key cancer focus of this research is provision of cancer research services, targeting inequity


This research seeks to integrate several existing cancer research enablers: a Biobank, genomic sequencing facility, a molecular tumour board, an early phase trials unit, a consensus tikanga and kaitiakitanga for Maori whanau to co-lead, and a strengthening view of patient-centred care in cancer services in the Health Systems area of the school of population health.


The groups will be linked by a master protocol to create a single streamlined research solution. The result will be a cancer testing and drug research platform that can realise the vision of an integrated academic cancer centre in Auckland. The master framework will facilitate molecular screening of 400 patients with next generation sequencing cancer panels (genetic testing). After this testing, patient will be able to be linked to a suite of clinical trials for biomarker-driven treatments, that is, treatments tailored or specific to that patient’s particular genetic markers.



Funding $199,716
Timeframe February 2021 to January 2023

Assoc. Prof Adam V Patterson – Window of opportunity trial of Tarloxotinib combined with SBRT in advanced HPV negative head & neck cancer



They key cancer focus of this research is testing and development of new drugs which will work against HPV (human papillomavirus) negative head and neck cancer.


HPV is a group of viruses that are passed between people through various routes and can have an impact on abnormal cell growth which can lead to several kinds of cancer.


This drug has been developed by the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre and has been tested in healthy people already.


This research undertakes an early trial of this medication in people with cancer, testing the drug on its own, and in combination with another common cancer treatment, radiation therapy, before patients go for surgery to remove their cancers.


The drug works by a complicated process of targeting a section in the middle of the tumour which has limited oxygen, killing the cells. Because the drug targets only a part of the tumour, the developers think there will be fewer side effects than other treatments.

Funding $190,708
Timeframe February 2021 to January 2023

Prof Michael Findlay – THYmine2 – An observational study to assess the ability of the thymine loading test to prospectively categorise patients with gastrointestinal or breast cancer who cannot tolerate fluoropyrimidine treatment.



The key cancer focus of this research is cancer treatment for people with breast cancer and gastrointestinal cancer.


This research aims to develop a test which can be used to predict if a particular drug will have severe side effects for some people with cancer. The chemotherapy drug group (fluoropyrimidine drugs) can have serious side effects for the group of people that are not able to take it. This research seeks to show that a thymine test is a reliable way to identify people who might have this reaction in advance. This could help doctors adjust the dose of the drug they give to patients or find alternative treatments for people who the test identifies as not able to tolerate this drug.


The test being studied is a urine test which is easy to do and inexpensive, so it would be a simple thing to put into practice, should it prove effective. Two hundred patients will be enrolled into the trial, people how have gastrointestinal or breast cancer who are about to undergo chemotherapy using the drug group.


This trial will be undertaken at Auckland City Hospital, Canopy Cancer Care in Auckland, Dunedin Hospital, Christchurch Hospital and Tauranga Hospital.

Funding $59,404
Timeframe January 2021 to December 2021


Assoc. Prof Michael B Jameson – The OSCAR Trial: Optimising Selenium status to prevent Colorectal Adenoma Recurrence.



The key cancer focus for this clinical trial is the use of selenium (type and dose) in the treatment of bowel cancer.


This trial will recruit patients from Counties Manukau DHB and Waikato DHB who are enrolled in the bowel screening programme. Patients will have already had removal of the bowel cancer precursor, polyps. Different doses and types of selenium will be tested in this group, to see which most helpful, and which option is more tolerable for people (has the least side effects, although few are expected). People will also be tested to see how much selenium they have in their blood before starting on selenium, to see if that makes a difference to their polyps reoccurring.


This trial will help inform a larger trial which will help determine whether the dose and type of selenium identified in this project are working to reduce reoccurring polyps. This future trial will recruit much larger numbers of people.

Funding $99,673
Timeframe February 2021 to March 2022

Dr Cherie Blenkiron – A new approach to investigating cellular signalling within tumours: A focus on endometrial cancer and metabolic disease.



The key cancer focus of this research is endometrial cancer, a gynaecological cancer which is affected by weight and disorders relating to the metabolism. This cancer can be challenging to diagnose. This cancer has implications for Maori and Pacific women and may affect women before they have children. This is a study in two parts, running at the same time.


One part is research which will take place in the laboratory. This part will apply a new technique, first in the world, to the analysis of cancer tissues. This technique uses a new way to identify cancer biology and biomarkers (medical signs about things that happen in cells, in this case happening in the cancer cell) called extracellular vesical investigation. The team will use donated tissue from the Auckland Biobank.


Biomarkers are important because what happens in the cell can tell us the best way to stop the cancer spreading or progressing. In future, this will help us with both diagnosis of endometrial cancers and monitoring of people who already have endometrial cancer. This technique might also be useful in diagnosis and management of other cancers in due course.


The other part is establishment of a research network of cancer clinicians and researchers. This network will identify focus areas and areas of need for endometrial cancer patients in New Zealand. They will do this by:

·       connecting researchers and clinicians with various areas of interest,

·       establishing partnerships between researchers, and

·       organising the research studies in this area by ensuring there is minimal overlap and that complementary studies are combined.


This will ensure we have efficient and useful research on this unique and important cancer.

Funding $50,000
Timeframe March 2021 to February 2022