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Inaugural Te Urungi fellowship awarded to Dr Theresa Pankhurst

26 April 2022

A new fellowship to strengthen relationships between the Malaghan Institute and Māori communities and ultimately improve health outcomes for Māori has been awarded to postdoctoral researcher Dr Theresa Pankhurst (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou) who says it blends two of her biggest passions: immunology and Te Ao Māori.

Te Urungi Fellowship has been established by the Malaghan Institute’s Māori advisory group, Te Urungi (the steering paddle of the waka), whose role is to guide the Institute in its work towards equitable health outcomes for Māori.

Dr Pankhurst says the fellowship is a three-year programme which will give her the opportunity to expand her expertise in the immunology research space, begin to understand how she can direct her research towards improving health outcomes for Māori, and build her own relationship and personal journey within Te Ao Māori.

 “Being given these opportunities is a huge deal to me and signals the progression of the Malaghan Institute going into the future, with all credit to Te Urungi and the impact they have on the institute.”

Dr Pankhurst will spend the first year of her fellowship at the Malaghan Institute continuing to work within Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo on a home-grown booster COVID-19 vaccine.

“Now as Te Urungi Fellow I will also be working on ways to better engage Māori communities, local iwi and hapu, Māori health service providers, communication networks and media. I’ll be receiving mentorship from Te Urungi and support from the Institute to develop personally through improving my reo Māori and attending hui and other workshops to listen, learn and build networks.”

 

“Ultimately I want to learn skills and build a research portfolio that I can bring back to Aotearoa and use in the future to conduct research that aims to address Māori health inequities.”

The next two years of the fellowship Dr Pankhurst will spend on secondment to the Babraham Institute at the University of Cambridge working with Dr Michelle Linterman, a leading researcher in germinal centre B-cell biology and vaccination. 

“Ultimately I want to learn skills and build a research portfolio that I can bring back to Aotearoa and use in the future to conduct research that aims to address Māori health inequities.”

Te Urungi Chair, Clive Aspin, says Te Urungi is delighted that the inaugural fellowship has gone to such a worthy candidate.

“Theresa is a wonderful role model for other young Māori thinking about pursuing a career in medical research. The knowledge and experience she brings back from her time abroad will be invaluable to Malaghan and especially for Māori communities throughout Aotearoa.”

Dr Pankhurst says she is incredibly honoured to be given these opportunities, but with them comes a lot of responsibility.  

“Tying together a biomedical research career and journey through Te Ao Māori may come with spiritual and emotional challenges,” says Dr Pankhurst. “But these are challenges that I look forward to navigating that will ultimately make me a better, more hauora-balanced researcher and wahine Māori.”