Scope 38 - Reflections from a founding Malaghan Institute scientist

17 April 2009, Cancer

Prof Mike Berridge is a household name in the New Zealand science arena. His contributions to the field of cancer research are recognised globally and he has played an active role in advising government on landmark policies such as the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, stem cell research and cancer innovations.

A lesser known fact is that Prof Berridge was the second Malaghan Fellow and has been associated with the Institute since 1976, before its new premises opened. He describes his laboratory space at that time as “a small, drafty, leaky and dirty room on the roof of the old Wellington Hospital building. In bad weather the corridor outside became a river and in really good weather, the animal facility a couple of rooms away was a sensory offence!” While waiting for the Institute to have its own facility, Prof Berridge was also provided with laboratory space within the Biochemistry Department at Victoria University of Wellington.

Prof Berridge’s early research was aimed at gaining a better understanding of blood stem cells, with the goal of improving bone marrow transplantation. His current research concerns the elusive cancer stem cell, a minor population of quiescent, drug-resistant cells that are thought to be responsible for the initiation of most cancers and their recurrence following treatment. When asked how scientific research compares today Prof Berridge said “being a researcher 33 years on involves some dramatic differences and new challenges, but some things haven't changed much. Not surprisingly, the most dramatic changes relate to the revolution in information technology involving wide use of powerful computers fuelled by search engines and electronic publication systems that have shifted the world of science literature and communication from libraries and the printed page to plastic office screens and electronic mail systems. The pace and scope of research has quickened but it still takes about the same time to fill an order.”

From his quirky sense of humour to his unrivalled passion and drive for scientific endeavours, Prof Berridge has been a vital contributor to the success of the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.