Home > News & resources > News > A career dedicated to research

A career dedicated to research

16 January 2015

The Board, Trustees and staff of the Malaghan Institute pay tribute this month to Research Fellow An Seng Tan who departs after 35 years of continuous service to medical research in New Zealand.

Cambodian-born An Tan was part of the Malaghan Institute-led team which recently gained international recognition for their seminal discovery that mitochondria can move from normal cells in the body into tumour cells lacking mitochondrial DNA.  The finding challenges long held views; essentially rewriting textbook science.

The worldwide interest, and its spotlight on New Zealand scientists, would not have happened if not for An Tan’s tenacity, patience and fastidious pursuit of a research hypothesis.

Professor Mike Berridge, Cancer Cell Biology Group Leader says, “Most researchers would have terminated the experiment after a week, before this effect was observed, thinking that the tumour cells without mitochondrial DNA weren’t going to grow.  But An kept monitoring them for more than a month and eventually saw tumours developing.”

This discovery has wide implications not only for tumour biology, but also for neurodegenerative diseases, neuromuscular diseases and potentially, many other human diseases involving compromised mitochondrial function.

Back row: Bill Stehbens, Paul Davis, Steve Ralph, Karl Rodgers, Peter McManus, Nick Greenhill, Kate Jeffery

Front row: An Tan, Mike Berridge, Marion Willis, John Manning, Irene Callaghan, Joy McIntosh

An Tan was first employed by Mike Berridge in 1980 as a Technical Officer at the Wellington Cancer and Medical Research Institute, later named the Malaghan Institute. “An was the second longest serving member of staff after me.  He leaves us with an impressive and enduring legacy; the contribution to the publication of 32 papers, with eight as the first author.”

One of those papers, published in 1993, has been cited 848 times by other researchers; illustrating the importance and continuing relevance of his work to the scientific community. 

Mike continues, “In layperson’s terms, a published research paper might be cited between five to twenty times annually[1], and over time you would anticipate fewer citations.  An’s paper, on the mechanism of reduction of the tetrazolium dye, MTT, shows no such drop off in interest or relevance, and will more than likely achieve 1000 citations within a couple years.”

While An Seng Tan may have left the building his work lives on adding more clarity and understanding of diseases, which brings new cures or treatments that much closer.



[1] http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/415643.article