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New child cancer specialist for Auckland

New child cancer specialist for Auckland

Paediatric oncologist, Dr Andrew Wood has returned to the University of Auckland to research the genetic mistakes driving childhood leukaemias.

Dr Wood graduated from the University of Auckland’s School of Medicine, and trained as a paediatrician at Starship Children’s Hospital before going to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as a Fulbright Scholar.

His research programme will study and model the genetic mistakes driving childhood leukaemias with “the ultimate goal of finding Achille’s heels that can be exploited to treat leukaemia in new ways”.

After seven years at the United States’ number one ranked children’s hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), he returned to New Zealand for family and friends and because there was a small but committed and capable team doing exciting work that he wanted to be part of.

Dr Wood specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers in children and adolescents. Alongside treating patients at Starship Children’s Hospital he will lead a research team and collaborate internationally with the aim of making childhood cancer a “stumbling block, not a road block.”

He hopes his research will contribute to the long-term aim of improving survival rates for Kiwi kids with cancer and to cure “more gently”.

Cure Kids will be a major contributor to his programme of research that is based out of the University of Auckland. His repatriation to New Zealand is also supported by the Auckland Medical Research Foundation through a Goodfellow Repatriation Fellowship.

Cure Kids CEO Vicki Lee says Dr Wood’s appointment is “a huge win for New Zealand child cancer research.”

Cancer survival rates for children are a success story of modern medicine as diseases that were once death sentences now carry an average five-year survival rate of 80 percent.

“There is no room for complacency as one in five children are still dying and survivors may bear life long physical and psychological scars from their disease and treatment,” says Dr Wood.

As survivors are now living much longer, about one in three survivors will have a late life-threatening side effect from their chemotherapy. Diseases generally seen in late adulthood - heart disease, stroke and adult cancers - may strike when survivors are only 20 to 40 years old.

“Traditional chemotherapy is like firing a shotgun at a bull’s eye - you can hit the target but you are guaranteed to damage healthy tissues,” he says. “Modern targeted therapies aspire to be more like a sniper’s rifle firing precisely at the underlying genetic mistakes that are causing the cancer.”

“Because these genetic mistakes are not present in healthy tissues these targeted therapies may be effective with fewer side effects,” says Dr Wood. “In some cancers these targeted therapies have been like watching a miracle, but for the majority of children afflicted by cancer there are no targeted therapies available.”

“We’re delighted to play a part in getting such a talented physician and scientist home. It’s vital that New Zealand stays on the cutting edge of child health research so Kiwi children can get the same level of care that children in the USA or the UK do,” says Ms Lee from Cure Kids.


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