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Otago honours leading physician-scientist Helen Heslop

Friday 24 May 2013

Otago honours leading physician-scientist Professor Helen Heslop

The University of Otago will this weekend confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Science on Professor Helen Heslop, an Otago graduate who has forged an outstanding medical and research career overseas.

Professor Heslop is an internationally recognised researcher who has helped to pioneer therapies that involve transfusing immune cells to fight viral infections and target and destroy cancers caused by viruses.

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Vernon Squire says the University is proud to have the opportunity to formally recognise Professor Heslop's significant contributions to her fields of medical science and clinical practice.

“Helen Heslop is a prime example of an Otago graduate who has gone on to achieve important advancements in knowledge that produce tangible benefits to our health and well-being," Professor Squire says.

After attending Kaikorai Valley High School, Professor Heslop studied medicine at Otago and in 1980 graduated with the degrees MB ChB. In 1985 she left New Zealand to join the Royal Free Hospital in London, where she undertook transplantation immunology research that earned her a Doctor of Medicine degree from Otago in 1990.

Professor Heslop subsequently took up a position at St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis in 1989 and in 1997 moved to Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas where she is currently a Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics and Director of the Adult Stem Cell Transplantation Programme in the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy. She was named as the first Dan L. Duncan Chair for the College in 2006.

In 2000 Professor Heslop received a Doris Duke Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award, in recognition of her internationally leading work. She was also the 2008 recipient of the Dr. Kenneth B. McCredie Medical Honoree Award which recognises significant and substantial contributions to the field of blood-related cancers.

Professor Heslop has extensive experience in developing and conducting transplant studies and cell and gene therapy studies, and is Principal Investigator on several major National Institutes of Health peer-reviewed programmatic grants including a Specialized Program of Research Excellence in Lymphoma and a Program Project grant on Immunotherapy for Solid Tumors, Her research aims to develop targeted therapies that have less toxicity than current treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

She has also focused on pursuing therapies to restore anti-viral immunity in patients following bone marrow transplants and is a past President of the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation and the current President of the Foundation for Accreditation of Cellular Therapy.

Professor Heslop will be conferred with her honorary Doctor of Science degree at tomorrow’s 4pm graduation ceremony at Dunedin’s Regent Theatre. She will also deliver the graduation address at that ceremony.

ENDS

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