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Malaghan young scientists amongst best in NZ


Malaghan young scientists amongst best in New Zealand
15 August 2008

For her groundbreaking research into the development of designer vaccines for the treatment of cancer, Malaghan Institute scientist Dianne Sika-Paotonu has won the Advancing Human Health and Wellbeing category of the 2008 MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year Awards.

These awards are named after New Zealand-born Nobel Laureate Professor Alan MacDiarmid, and are presented by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology to celebrate the achievements of New Zealand’s future leaders in science.

Dianne’s PhD research in the Malaghan Institute Vaccine Research Group, led by Dr Ian Hermans, is focused on a rare group of immune cells called dendritic cells.

These cells have the unique ability of being able to stimulate the immune system to launch an attack against cancerous tissue.

By developing innovative strategies that maximise dendritic cell activity, Dianne’s leading-edge research, which is supported by a Health Research Council of New Zealand Pacific Health PhD scholarship, is one step closer towards a highly-effective more natural approach to cancer therapy that doesn’t come with the side-effects of conventional treatments.

“It is fantastic to see the energy and skills of Dianne recognised by the MacDiarmid award,” said Professor Graham Le Gros, Director of the Malaghan Institute.

“Cancer is a terrible disease and we need to support these bright young New Zealanders to ensure our future.” For full details of Dianne’s research and award, please visit

A second Malaghan Institute young scientist to have received national acclaim recently is Emma Dangerfield, who was the recipient last week of a prestigious Top Doctoral Achiever Scholarship.

These scholarships are awarded to the top 10 per cent of PhD candidates throughout New Zealand by the Tertiary Education Commission.

Supervised by Dr Bridget Stocker, Head of the Malaghan Institute Immunoglycomics Group and joint Malaghan Institute/Victoria University School of Chemical & Physical Sciences scientist Dr Mattie Timmer, the goal of Emma’s research is to synthesise a variety of novel compounds called glycolipids to ‘fine-tune’ the immune response against cancer.

This project is at the interface between chemistry and immunology and complements the work being performed by the Malaghan Institute Vaccine Group of Dr Hermans.

Dr Stocker is delighted that Emma’s talent has been recognised.

“Emma has shown tremendous dedication, insight and inquisitiveness since her time at the Malaghan Institute and has already made a number of interesting discoveries.

Her scientific career looks very bright.” As the first PhD student of the recently established Immunoglycomics Group, Dr Stocker is pleased to have such a highly motivated student as the inaugural group member.

“Emma is a great asset to our research group and is a wonderful role model for our younger group members.

She’s setting the standard for those that follow.” With talented up-and-coming young scientists such as Dianne and Emma, the future of New Zealand health research looks to be in very capable hands.

The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research is New Zealand’s premier vaccine and immunology research centre and is based at Victoria University’s Kelburn campus, Wellington.

The Institute operates independently and is a charitable trust.

Researchers at the Malaghan Institute are focused on developing innovative ways to harness the strength and potency of the immune system, the body’s own natural defence against disease, to treat cancer, asthma, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and infectious disease.


This media release is also available for viewing on our website with links to relevant individuals and research groups.

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