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Recognition of excellence for cancer research

Recognition of excellence for cancer vaccine research

1 December 2008

Groundbreaking research into the development of designer vaccines for the treatment of cancer has won Dianne Sika-Paotonu, a PhD student from the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Victoria University of Wellington, the 2008 Colmar Brunton New Zealand Research Excellence Award.

The Colmar Brunton Research Excellence Award recognises excellence in research being undertaken by a Victoria University student.

Supported by a Health Research Council of New Zealand Pacific Health PhD scholarship, the focus of Dianne’s research is to use designer vaccines to train the immune system to seek out and destroy cancer tissue. The cancer vaccines are created from a rare group of immune cells called dendritic cells, which are responsible for initiating powerful immune responses.

“The aim of my PhD project is to devise a simple strategy to enhance the effectiveness of current dendritic cell-based vaccines for the treatment of all cancers,” Dianne says.

Under the supervision of Dr Ian Hermans, Head of the Malaghan Institute Vaccine Research Group, and guidance of research fellow Dr Troels Petersen, Dianne has shown that the cancer killing immune response generated by the dendritic-cell based vaccine is significantly improved when used in combination with a unique sea sponge extract.

Dianne said, “The incorporation of the sea sponge compound into the dendritic cell based vaccination protocol is a simple modification to the current dendritic-cell based vaccine strategies that are currently being trialled both here at the Malaghan Institute and overseas.”

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By identifying ways to maximise the anti-tumour immune response directed by the dendritic cell cancer vaccine, Dianne’s research offers the promise of a more effective cancer therapy that doesn’t come with the side effects of current conventional treatments.

“This is a tumour specific therapy meaning only tumour cells are targeted for destruction, unlike other conventional cancer treatments which can destroy both normal and cancer tissue,” said Dianne. “As this work has been conducted in an experimental model of melanoma, it is of direct relevance to all New Zealanders, especially given our increased incidence of skin cancer relative to other countries.”

Earlier this year, Dianne won the Advancing Human Health and Wellbeing category of the MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year Awards for her cancer vaccine research.

The Malaghan Institute is very proud to congratulate Dianne on her distinguished success.


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