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Award winning Biomedical Scientist appointed to Assoc Dean

Award winning Biomedical Scientist appointed to Associate Dean (Pacific) at University of Otago Wellington

Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu has been appointed to the role of Associate Dean (Pacific) at the University of Otago, Wellington (UOW). Dr Sika-Paotonu is the first Tongan and Pacific biomedical scientist to be appointed to this role within the Division of Health Sciences at Otago. She is based in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington.

“We are delighted to have Dr Sika-Paotonu join us at the University of Otago, Wellington,” Dean and Head of Campus Professor Sunny Collings said.

“Not only will she be supporting our Pacific staff and students, and building on the Associate Dean Pacific role, but she is also an award-winning scientist doing important research.”

Previously at Victoria University of Wellington, Dr Sika-Paotonu will be leading the Pacific team at UOW to support Pacific students to ensure the successful completion of their selected study courses and programmes.

“I look forward to celebrating the academic successes and achievements of our Pacific students and staff, and will also seek to support and promote research and outreach contributions by UOW that are directly relevant to our Pacific communities.

“I am also committed to supporting UOW’s ongoing commitment to strengthening pre-existing relationships with our Pacific communities locally and abroad, and also committed to establishing new partnerships locally and extending into the Region and beyond,” she says.

Dr Sika-Paotonu is the scientific lead for penicillin research work based in New Zealand that seeks to support global efforts to reformulate Benzathine Penicillin G for the management of Rheumatic Fever.

She completed her PhD in Biomedical Science at Victoria University of Wellington specialising in immunology, while also at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research. She was a member of the cancer vaccines team, and explored modifying these vaccines to generate stronger immune responses against cancer. Her research showed that when synthetic compounds that mimic infected tissue were incorporated into the cancer vaccine preparation, more cancer-killing immune cells could be generated.

Her research also highlighted the role of specific sub-populations of immune cells in generating these cancer killing immune responses, overall aiming to improve the potency of these cancer vaccines for treatment of all cancers.

In the past, she has worked at the Telethon Kids Institute (TKI) in Perth Western Australia (where she remains an Honorary Research Associate), working as the scientific lead for penicillin research within the Group A Streptococcal Disease team based at the Wesfarmers Centre for Vaccines and Infectious Diseases.

Dr Sika-Paotonu has received numerous awards including the MacDiarmid New Zealand Young Scientist of the Year-Advancing Human Health & Wellbeing, Colmar Brunton Research Excellence Award, Australasian Society of Immunology BD Science Communication award, Asia Pacific Science Technology Studies Networks New Contributions to Science Technology & Innovation Award-Indigenous studies and the Australasian Society of Immunology Buck Memorial Award.

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