Innovation (No. 8 Wire)

11 August 2014, Cancer

Perhaps because we live so far from any other country, New Zealanders have always had to invent things we could not easily obtain. This seemingly innate ability to innovate is not just a myth; Kiwi innovation has made substantial contributions to the world’s scientific and medical development.

Kiwis like Colin Murdoch, who invented the disposable hypodermic syringe, still used by millions of people every day, provide inspiration for us at the Malaghan Institute.

Our medical researchers need to innovate to push forward the pace and scope of our research. In 2006 Dr Melanie McConnell established a research programme here at the Malaghan Institute focused on understanding cancer stem cells – a rare population of cells found within tumours that are thought to be the main cause of relapse and metastasis.  Cancer stem cells have the unique ability to renew themselves and use an extensive network of survival mechanisms to evade chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. 

As her understanding of these survival pathways grew, Dr McConnell realised that cancer stem cells might just hold the secret to extending the life of cells that die prematurely.  Now based at Victoria University of Wellington, Dr McConnell is working with Malaghan researchers in applying this knowledge to the development of ways to prolong the survival of neurons for the treatment of motor neurone disease. 

Understanding how the immune system induces, enhances, or supresses an immune response is a crucial component of immunology. Engaging the ability of the immune system to “beat” diseases is our great challenge.

To put it simply, our researchers aim to find a way in which they can harness specific immune responses and turn them ‘on’ or ‘off’ like a light switch.

Whilst our tools may be changing, Kiwi innovation lives on at the Institute.

 

This article features in the August 2014 issue of our Scope newsletter (Issue 54).  Download the full newsletter here - 506 KB (PDF)