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Otago scientist wins national award for cancer research

University of Otago gastrointestinal cancer researcher and medical oncologist, Dr Sharon Pattison, has won the 2019 NZSO (NZ Society for Oncology) Roche Translational Cancer Research Fellowship to drive the discovery of novel treatments, translate research findings to clinical practice and ultimately to improve patient outcomes.

Dr Pattison was announced as the winner of the award at the NZ Society for Oncology (NZSO) Annual Conference in Wellington on October 25. The Roche award, which has an annual value of $30,000, provides a unique opportunity for NZ cancer research teams to up-skill an integral team member, so that the team can work together more effectively and improve research output.

Together with her University of Otago research team, Dr Pattison has initiated a collaboration with imaging specialists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) in Melbourne to allow access to cutting-edge lattice light sheet microscopy, a novel way of imaging live cells over an extended period of time.

Dr Pattison and her team have been studying the immunoproteasome, a protein complex that is present in many cell types, and how this complex can influence survival from cancer. One of the recognised functions of the immunoproteasome is to alter the range of antigens presented on the surface of cancer cells and affect the ensuing anticancer immune response.

“The exciting and novel technology at WEHI allows us to see cellular processes in unprecedented clarity and in real-time. By gaining a greater understanding of the function of the immunoproteasome we may identify another mechanism used by cancer cells to escape the immune system, potential mechanisms of resistance to therapies and novel targets for cancer immunotherapies,” explains Dr Pattison.

“The Roche Fellowship will allow us to connect with internationally-recognised scientists, enhance and innovate work already being undertaken by our research team, extend our skill set and accelerate novel biological discoveries aimed to improve current cancer treatments. Findings and collaboration will be made available to NZ researchers and students to encourage the use of live cell imaging to investigate dynamic inter-cellular interactions,” says Dr Pattison.

“We believe Dr Pattison’s project exemplifies the award’s aim of encouraging and enabling clinicians and scientists work together to translate their research into effective outcomes for patients. As a leading developer of cancer medicines, Roche NZ supports local researchers to better understand, treat and potentially, cure cancer. This includes conducting 13 clinical trials in NZ investigating new cancer treatments,” says Roche NZ medical manager Dr Stuart Ryan.

“The NZSO Roche Fellowship aims to support an up and coming researcher and their team to try new and exciting approaches in cancer research. Sharon has a novel and ambitious research idea and, as a medical oncologist with a PhD in fundamental science, she is well placed to lead this project. One of our judges described the work as ‘compelling’ and ‘will lead to new techniques in New Zealand’,” comments NZSO president, Dr Roslyn Kemp.

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