Previous Seminars

2023 Seminars

27th October: Dr Karen Bartholomew

Cancer screening from an equity perspective

Prevention activities have important potential to address cancer inequities, particularly ethnic inequities. Dr Bartholomew will discuss some aspects of equity in cancer screening, including screening participation (access and outcome equity) using examples of equity-focused screening research from the Mãori Health Pipeline programme to illustrate opportunities for broader thinking about screening equity and highlighting opportunities to translate
screening examples into other healthcare settings.

Dr Karen Bartholomew

Is a Public Health Physician and researcher, and is the Director of Health Equity in Service Innovation and Improvement, Te What Ora (Health New Zealand). Her research focuses on screening, health inequities and implementation science. Karen leads a HPV self-testing programme, Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) research, an Endometrial Cancer programme and is a co-investigator for the Mäori-led Lung Cancer
Screening programme Te Oranga Pükahukahu. Karen has a Microbiology degree, is a medical doctor and has a Masters of Public Health. She is a current member of the NZ National Screening Advisory Committee.

28th September: Prof. Catherine Muller-Staumont

(MD, PhD) is the head of the “Microenvironment, Cancer and Adipocytes” team at the Institute of Pharmacology and Structural Biology in Toulouse, France. Her team discovered the specific phenotype of adipocytes at close proximity to the tumors, cells that they named “Cancer-Associated Adipocytes” (Dirat et al, Cancer Research, 2011). She demonstrated that adipocytes contribute to cancer progression (mainly breast and prostate cancers) through soluble molecules (chemokines, pro-inflammatory cytokines), extra-cellular matrix molecules and lipid mediators. In addition, most of these effects have been shown to be amplify on obesity conditions.

20th September: New Horizons: Navigating International Funding Opportunities for Cancer Research

Horizon Europe

UniServices and Te Aka Mātauranga Matepukupuku are pleased to jointly present this session hosted by Uniservices’ Business Development Manager (Health) Lucy McDowell, which features presentations from Mark Hurdley (International Research Manager) and Casper Hitchins (Senior Funds Advisor).

Major opportunities to gain international funding for New Zealand cancer research are emerging – this workshop brings together some of the experts from right here at the University who can help you navigate them.

There will be useful advice for you to take away, whether you are new to the world of international funding, or looking to refine your approach.

17th August: Dr Michelle Sullivan, Cancer Research Trust New Zealand


Making the most of your grant applications

The Cancer Research Trust is New Zealand’s second-largest philanthropic funder of cancer research and the only one dedicated to funding all types of research on all forms of cancer. The trust grants around $1million per annum for research projects and professional development awards.

Dr Michelle Sullivan talks about the Cancer Research Trust’s different types of grants, find out all about the grant assessment process, get top tips on what makes a successful grant application, plus have your questions answered.

29th June: Dr Rodger Tiedemann


The Roots of Relapse in Multiple Myeloma – cancer stem/progenitor cells.

Multiple Myeloma (MM) is a B cell neoplasm characterised by the accumulation of mature plasma cells within the bone marrow. Despite intense and continuous treatments, MM almost always recurs.

This failure to achieve cure suggests the existence of intra-clonal heterogeneity and rare drug-resistant MM cells with tumorigenic capacity. Examination of MM patient bone marrow samples (n=140) has identified the presence of malignant clone progenitor subpopulations that recapitulate the differentiation stages between normal post-germinal centre B cells and mature PCs.

We show that these MM progenitor cells possess all of the clonal genomic aberrations required for full malignant potential. Tracking of the clonal progenitor cells in vivo in patients by their SNV profile implicates them as the cellular origin of MM disease relapse. Our data indicates that cure of MM requires eradication of these progenitor cells, with ongoing work focussed on identifying immunotherapeutic strategies to target these cells.

22nd May: Marta Seretny & Hanna van Waart


Prehabilitation for people with cancer – supportive care

Cancer is a life altering diagnosis that many people will encounter within their lifetime, either directly or through whānau. With improved treatments and earlier and better diagnosis, cancer survival rates have improved. Despite this, many patients experience several short-term and long-term side effects due to cancer and its treatment.

While historically rest and outright inactivity were recommended for patients with cancer, over the last two decades research has highlighted the benefits of being physically active during the cancer continuum. Exercise programs are known to mitigate, or even prevent, the short-term and long-term side effects patients’ experience due to cancer and its treatment.

Prehabilitation, the phase before surgery, has the potential to improve current health and overall functioning to better withstand upcoming treatments. However, little is known about the specific needs of people in Aotearoa New Zealand with cancer in the ‘prehabilitation’ period between diagnosis and surgery.

In this presentation we will give an overview of supportive care for people with cancer. Followed by a summary of our ongoing research into prehabilitation in patients with breast cancer.


If you are interested in this work but can not attend the meeting please contact Hanna and Marta on:

27th April: Thomas Park


Unravelling the Brain’s influence on tumour growth and leveraging machine learning to enhance diagnosis and research.

As a neuroscientist specialising in brain tumour research, this talk will discuss ways our brain influences tumour growth and impacts treatments. The first part of the presentation will highlight the growing body of evidence surrounding how the brain’s microenvironments and cell types affect brain tumour biology. I will showcase our team’s research on how high-grade brain tumours exploit the brain’s machinery for migration and creating an immunosuppressed tumour microenvironment. Additionally, I will explore how investigating the brain aided in finding tumour-specific targets for drug delivery. Our studies incorporate patient-derived brain tumour cells, normal brain cell cultures, multiplex immunohistochemistry-based single-cell image analysis, radiation biology, and drug discovery.

In the second part of the talk, I will present our ongoing Te Aka-funded project that employs machine-learning-based analysis to enhance brain tumour diagnosis and research. This collaborative endeavour with the engineers at ABI utilises our team’s data and expertise from previous projects to develop a predictive brain tumour model with diagnostic and research applications. I will share our progress in extracting cell or microenvironment-specific features from patient brain tumour H&E stains, and the association of these features with prognostically relevant protein markers optimised in our lab.

30th March: Dr Paul Jarrett & Dr Claude Aguergaray


Dr Paul Jarrett: Can a laser be used to diagnose skin disease? Raman spectroscopy and Skin Cancer.

Paul Jarrett is a dermatologist at Middlemore hospital and an Honorary Associate Professor in the Departments of Medicine, at The Universities of Auckland and Otago. He is part of an Auckland University multidisciplinary team investigating the use of Raman Spectroscopy and its application to skin disease. This presentation will focus on the use of Raman spectroscopy to diagnose skin cancer.


Dr Claude Aguergaray: Towards Intraoperative Detection of Clinically Significant Prostate Cancer: Trends within a clinical trial.

Prostate cancer (PCa) is a significant healthcare problem in many western countries. The current gold standard for diagnosis of PCa involves a highly invasive systematic transrectal or transperineal tissue biopsy. A growing part of the clinical community now recognises the interest in early diagnosis of clinically relevant cancers (ISUP grade 2 and higher) against ISUP1 tissue. ISUP1 has a relatively indolent course, with cancer-specific deaths or metastases occurring in less than 1% of men. Despite optimised utilisation of mpMRI, the incidence of negative or clinically non-significant PCa following prostate biopsy remains high.

23rd February: Wyeth Wasserman


The Silent Genomes Project: Create and establish a Indigenous governance for a Indigenous genetic variation reference database for rare disease diagnosis in Canada

The Silent Genomes Project aims to create and establish Indigenous governance over a reference genetic variation database to support the equitable diagnosis of the causes of rare disorders for Indigenous patients in Canada.

At present there are inequities in the capacity to diagnose Indigenous children in Canada with rare diseases. It can be unclear if observed genetic differences between an Indigenous patient and international reference databases of genetic variation reflect an absence of Indigenous participants in the reference data or a genetic cause of a patient’s disease. To address this inequity, the Silent Genomes Project pursues three technical aims shaped by an encompassing aim of Indigenous data and research governance. The three technical aims include: (Aim 2)  the use of whole genome sequencing to diagnose Indigenous patients with rare disorders; (Aim 3) the creation of a reference Indigenous Background Variant Library (IBVL) reporting the frequency of genetic variants across the human genome for Indigenous participants; and (Aim 4) a health economics assessment of the impact (under multiple measures) of reference data on diagnosis. Aim 1 focuses on the development of Indigenous governance over the research and the data, which wraps around and within all other aims. The presentation will provide an overview of the Indigenous peoples of Canada, and will focus on Aims 1 and 3, highlighting how bioinformatics can be enabling to the process and implementation of governance models. The similarities and differences between the Silent Genomes Project and the Genomics Aotearoa Variome Project will be explored.

7th February – Julia Guthrie


Using Virtual Reality to explore biology: Inflammation in 3D

Monogenic autoimmune and autoinflammatory diseases are a heterogeneous group of rare diseases that affect the immune system. Although individual components of these diseases have been studied in detail, the available clinical, phenotypic and molecular data is sparse, and large-scale comparative studies that reveal general properties of these diseases are still lacking.

To address this, we developed a network-based framework for integrating all currently known monogenic immune defects underlying autoimmunity and autoinflammation and their molecular interactions. Navigating the AutoCore, the network core of autoimmunity and autoinflammation reveals molecular disease clusters, the relationship between monogenic and polygenic autoimmune and autoinflammatory diseases and showcases the efficacy for such a network-based framework to investigate therapeutic approaches.

Finally, to overcome  the challenges in visualizing and interactively exploring large and complex datasets such as the AutoCore, we included the AutoCore into a virtual reality (VR) application using the VRNetzer platform. This enables an intuitive, immersive discovery of the complex AutoCore network in 3D.

2022 Seminars

October 15th 2022: Dr Peter Shephard

‘Using old drugs in new ways to getter better treatment outcomes for cancer’

Recent years have seen the development of many exciting new drugs that have anti-neoplastic activity. However, interest from big pharma in developing new ways to use these wanes as patent life comes to an end so this is an area where academic research groups need to take the lead.

Our lab has been using the valuable cancer cell line collections, including those at the ACSRC, to identify strategies for using old drugs in new ways to achieve better therapeutic outcomes for melanoma and colorectal cancer.  In one series of studies we have used high content  CRISPR screening to identify new mechanisms by which statins are able to inhibit the grow of melanoma cells. Another series of studies has also identified that the efficacy of BRAF inhibitors can be greatly increased in preclinical models of BRAF mutant colorectal cancer and melanoma by the addition of VEGFR inhibitors.  This could expand the efficacy of BRAF inhibitors and provide and alternative to BRAF/MEK inhibitor therapy regimes. Of even more interest though is that in the case of melanoma these combination effects are surprisingly also evident in BRAF wild type models, even though BRAF inhibitors alone were ineffective. This  suggests that the use of BRAF inhibitors may be able to be extended to this patient group if used in this combination. To understand mechanisms we have undertaken a range of studies that show the combination of these drugs has additive effects in attenuating tumour vasculature while still being well tolerated in the animals. This effect is likely to contribute to the efficacy of the combination but other mechanisms in both tumour and tumour microenvironment cells were also identified.   Ongoing studies are investigating other strategies for increasing these effects on tumour vasculature, including the potential use of cannabidiol (CBD). The talk will also discuss efforts that are underway to develop a clinical trials to test this drug combination in patients. 

September 30th 2022: Dr Erena Wikaire

Understanding the potential of Rongoā Māori and Cancer

Rongoā Māori is the traditional Māori health system. Despite rongoā systems being dismantled and undermined by colonisation and Western science, preferences for and utilisation of Rongoā Māori is on the rise. Cancer is a space where Rongoā is often turned to, sometimes when it is too late, and yet Rongoā offers much potential for healing and quality of life. This kōrero will share Erena’s PhD research that investigated the potential of Rongoā Māori for Māori whānau.

September 16th 2022: Dr Amy Lovell

Malnutrition across childhood cancer treatment in New Zealand: what are we weighting for?

Dr Lovell is an NZ Registered Dietitian and early career researcher with 7years of research experience in clinical trials and longitudinal human research. Dr Lovell is a lecturer within the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, FMHS and has a clinical position at the Starship Blood and Cancer Centre (SBCC). Dr Lovell’s research has focused on understanding the challenges to maintaining normal growth and oral intake while receiving treatment for childhood cancer and gaining insight into patient and whānau experiences of nutrition as supportive care across the cancer continuum. Recent research projects at SBCC have demonstrated that cancer and its treatments disrupt nutrition in all directions with an increase in the prevalence of under and overnutrition as children progress through their treatment and enter survivorship (2-3 years after diagnosis), influenced by treatment intensity.  Dr Lovell has also recorded wide variation in screening, assessment, intervention, and monitoring practices across the shared care centres in Aotearoa, New Zealand (NZ), with smaller centres limited by a lack of specialised paediatric oncology dietetic personnel. In this Te Aka Seminar Series, Dr Lovell will present the findings from her research to date and current projects, including a prospective nutrition study in new diagnoses which was awarded an Albet Bequest by the Centre for Cancer Research.

August 19th 2022: Hayley Reynolds & Anassuya Ramachandran

Hayley Reynolds

‘Developing quantitative imaging biomarkers for prostate cancer radiotherapy ‘

Radiotherapy is a common and effective form of treatment for localised prostate cancer. The current standard of care is to deliver a uniform dose of radiation to the prostate gland, regardless of tumour location or biology. Recently, ‘biologically-targeted radiotherapy’ (BiRT) has been proposed to significantly improve treatment by giving a personalised non-uniform dose of radiation based on patients’ tumour location and biology identified from multiparametric MRI (mpMRI). Furthermore, mpMRI has shown potential to predict treatment response earlier and more precisely than standard prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood testing allows. In this talk I will describe a clinical trial we are conducting at ADHB to assess early response to stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy (SABR) using quantitative MRI, and ongoing work to understand the biological basis of MRI and PET imaging via correlation with ground truth histology. Identification of reliable imaging biomarkers would enable early salvage treatments to be offered to patients if they are not responding to treatment, to increase their chance of cure.


Anassuya Ramachandran

‘Hidden in Full View – Revealing TGF-b Family Signalling in Endometrial Cancer’

Endometrial cancer (EC) is the predominant cancer type of the uterus, with an increasing incidence worldwide. In New Zealand, it is the fifth most frequent cancer in females with Pasifika women, and to a lesser extent wāhine Māori, bearing the biggest disease burden. Sadly, research and clinical advancements in EC lag significantly behind other cancers and women with recurrent or metastatic disease have an extremely poor prognosis (5-year survival of 17%) with very limited treatment options. Thus, there is an urgent and unmet need to redress the paucity of knowledge on the biology of EC to achieve more equitable outcomes for women with this disease. The TGF-b family ligands, including TGF-b, Activin and Bone Morphogenetic Proteins (BMPs), are crucial for embryonic development and tissue homeostasis. In this seminar, Dr. Ramachandran will discuss some of her recent research on the mechanisms and outcomes of TGF-b family signalling and will then describe ongoing research on the role of this signalling pathway in EC.

August 18th 2022: *Visiting Speaker* Cecellia Yeung


‘Advancing molecular diagnostics for Acute Leukemia’

Molecular diagnostics have changed the paradigm in pathology diagnosis and the gamut of diagnostic and prognostic tests range from PCR, NGS and microarray have altered our approach to AML diagnosis and subclassification. Since the 2016 edition of the WHO, changes have been proposed to a classification system of AML which is more molecular centric. This talk will cover changes to current standard of care practices in CBF-AML, new and exciting advances in molecular diagnostics for acute leukemia, and how our work will impact your leukemia patients in the future.

August 5th 2022: Health and Wellbeing Business Beacon

The Health and Well-being Research Beacon provides a multi-disciplinary approach in the field of health and well-being, which combines medicine, both physical and mental, as well as health management and psychological aspects of the social sciences.

Their work in this domain is inspired by the notion of co-creation of policy frameworks and public-policy debates, on the basis of solid empirical research. Business thinking, models and techniques are a key component of the Beacon reflecting its location within the Business School.

To talk about these topics we had Paul Rouse Professor of Management Accounting in the Department of Accounting and Finance, Associate Professor Dr Laszlo Sajtos from the Department of Marketing at the University of Auckland and Robert MacCulloch the current Matthew S. Abel Chair of Macroeconomics at Auckland University.

August 4th 2022: *Visiting Speaker* Catherine Bollard

‘Advances in Cell Therapies for Cancer’

Cancer immunotherapies, which rely on harnessing a patient’s immune system to kill malignant cells, are booming as a treatment option especially for patients with hematologic malignancies. The field has grown exponentially since Science designated cancer immunotherapy, including checkpoint inhibitors and chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CARTs), as “breakthrough therapy” of the year for 2013. At the time, some feared that Science risked hyping an approach that had shown efficacy in only a tiny fraction of patients. However, this proved unwarranted, because hundreds of patients have now been enrolled in immunotherapy trials. Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials led to the approval of several new immunotherapies by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Critically, in 2017, the FDA approved the first 2 CD19 CART products as live drugs and further approvals have followed including a BCMA-CART for myeloma. Currently, not all medical centres have access to these cell-based treatments because they are still restricted to centres able to manage the life-threatening toxicities associated with CART cell therapy, such as the cytokine release syndrome and neurotoxicity. However, cell therapies are fast becoming paradigm-changing treatment options especially for patients with hematologic cancers. The field has grown exponentially as it expands to solid tumors as well as nonmalignant (e.g. viral) diseases. This seminar will describe some of the latest advances in this field highlighting some of the current obstacles as well as new opportunities for the future. Specifically, the presentation will provide discussion on a selection of emerging immunotherapies now available to patients for cancer, including TILs, tumor-antigen specific T cells, TCR-transduced T cells and chimeric antigen receptor T cells.

July 22nd 2022: Natalie Walker

‘Population and Policy Impact: Research to address the leading modifiable risk factors for cancer’

Addressing modifiable risk factors is the most effective and cost-effective strategy for reducing cancer risk, and addressing cancer inequities. The National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI), based in the School of Population Health, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, is a group that specialises in pragmatic clinical trials, ehealth and mhealth, disease prevention, reducing health inequities and enabling the delivery of more effective and equitable healthcare. Dr Walker will discuss some of the research undertaken by NIHI to address the leading modifiable risk factors for cancer, and how their research has informed policy and practice, both national and internationally.

July 8th 2022: Paula Lorgelly

‘So you think you need a health economist, yes you do!’

Health economics isn’t just about estimating the cost of an intervention or evaluating cost effectiveness. Assessments of value for money can occur across the spectrum of evidence development, for example does a proposed trial deliver value for money for research funders? There are also other health economics tools and techniques that can be deplored in clinical and public health projects that can ensure get added valued for a project, including understanding healthcare professionals and patients’ preferences for care, which might impact adoption and uptake; or exploring the distribution of health outcomes and cost to understand equity effects.

Prof Paula Lorgelly, a recent recruit to UoA, will discuss some of the research she has undertaken in the genomics and cancer space, highlighting new research angles that may spark the interest of others, and thereby enable new transdisciplinary research collaborations.

June 10th 2022: Emma Nolan and Cherie Blenkiron


In this seminar we have Emma Nolan speaking about Naughty neutrophils: Radiation therapy triggers a dark side in neutrophils. 

Followed by Cherie Blenkiron speaking about Extracellular Vesicles as biomarkers for endometrial cancer.

May 27th 2022: Professor Stefan Bohlander


In this seminar we have Professor Stefan Bohlander speaking about Precision medicine for haematological malignancies. Why stamp collecting was important to understand AML.

Stefan gave an overview of the biology and genetics of acute myeloid leukaemia, with an emphasis on the newer developments in the field facilitated by next generation sequencing (NGS). As an example of a Precision Medicine Initiative, Stefan will introduce our myeloid NGS panel and report how it impacts the management of AML patients in Auckland. Stefan also gave an brief overview of our murine leukaemia models and our studies on leukaemia stem cells.

May 13th 2022: Show and Tell – Session 2


This was a ‘Show & Tell’ event, in which we will showcase some of the fantastic research programs and scientific platforms that are being developed and led by members of our research community. Each speaker gives a short ‘elevator pitch’ style presentation.

To see more about this seminar click here.

Friday 29th April: Show and Tell


This was a ‘Show & Tell’ event, held on Friday 29th April, in which we showcased some of the fantastic research programs and scientific platforms that are being developed and led by members of our research community. Each speaker gives a short ‘elevator pitch’ style presentation, followed by a brief Q&A session.

At the end of the seminar, we hosted a 30-minute networking and discussion event over Zoom for those who wished to attend, allowing the viewer to engage with our speakers, ask questions and establish new collaborations. This event is designed to inspire you, to inform you, and to help connect you!

March 31st 2022: Rakeiora – generating a new precision medicine research infrastructure in NZ


New Zealand has many high quality precision medicine research programs involving genomic data from patients across a range of diseases. However, this research often proceeds as relatively small-scale projects, with virtually no supporting computational infrastructure and little potential for collaboration.

We have few equivalents to large overseas initiatives such as Genome England. Many of NZ’s precision medicine academic studies and clinical trials have inconsistent protection of participants, outdated ethical, legal and governance frameworks and little focus on Māori Treaty rights or Māori & Pacific health needs.

Rakeiora is an MBIE-funded project that aims to address these issues. It is building a prototype for a safe, well-governed and effective infrastructure in which NZ researchers can store, analyse and collaborate using national-scale human whole genome data sets linked to health records. Rakeiora will primarily enable precision medicine research and trials but will also facilitate clinical care. While

Rakeiora works with overseas programs such as Genome England, Gen3 and GA4GH to use the best international methods available, it is NZ-centric, focussed on co-innovation with Māori and is grounded in Te Tiriti and tikanga frameworks.