Seminar Series

Te Aka Mātauranga Matepukupuku was proud to kick-off their 2022 Seminar Series with the Flagship Seminar led by Prof. Cris Print on Thursday 31st March. This seminar series will be fortnightly in a mix of formats and seminar lengths. These seminars will be in person and on zoom from June 2022.

Te Aka will hold seminars which embody the future direction of Te Aka: A transdisciplinary research centre focused on improving care, treatment, and prevention, for people, whanau, and communities affected by cancer, through Māori and community partnerships, research, education and training, and advanced clinical care.

We are so pleased to able to give recognition to all the researchers and communities involved in these cancer related projects and support new and exciting ideas. Thanks to the speakers and audience. We are so grateful to those willing to come and talk to us about their learnings.

Upcoming Seminars:

  • Thursday 30th March 3pm

Previous 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.