Promising young scientists awarded $160,000 to fund innovative projects in breast cancer research

Two exceptional breast cancer research projects have been given the green light thanks to the provision of research grants from the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation (NZBCF).

The NZBCF Belinda Scott Fellowship Programme is a medical research grant awarded each year to fund innovative breast cancer research by a New Zealand scientist. The scientist’s project must be focussed on the improvement of breast cancer survivorship; the Fellowship grant provides the essential funds for the scientist to continue in their chosen path of investigation.

To date, the NZBCF has had to narrow its choices down to just one recipient whose project addresses the gap in knowledge or a new treatment pathway to explore. This year, in a first for the organisation, the NZBCF is pleased to have the resources to grant two fellowships.

Two New Zealand scientists, based at the University of Auckland, are this year’s Fellowship recipients. Dr Dean Singleton and Dr Anita Muthukaruppan will both receive a sum of $80,000 to complete their projects, which can take one to two years to complete. At the conclusion of the projects, the recipients will share their findings and discoveries with the NZBCF and the wider medical community through the publication of articles in medical journals. The NZBCF medical advisory committee will keep in regular contact with the researchers to share progress and outcome reports as the project runs its course.

The Fellowship Recipients

Dr Dean Singleton

Dr Singleton is a research fellow working in the Department of Medical Sciences at the University of Auckland. He gained his BSc and PhD at the University of Auckland before travelling to Oxford to work with renowned cancer researcher Adrian Harris.

Dr Singleton’s project will investigate the potential for hypoxia-targeted drugs in breast cancer (developing drugs targeting cancer tumours low in oxygen).These low-oxygen tumours are aggressive and more likely to spread. Dr Singleton’s work could help prevent the spread of cancer and improve patient survival.

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Dr Anita Muthukaruppan

Dr Muthukaruppan is a research fellow working in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Auckland. After gaining her BSc, she worked at the Kolling Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, before returning to Auckland to complete her PhD.

Dr Muthukaruppan’s research will explore the role of FOXA1 gene variant in breast cancer, the particular genetic mutations that affect whether or not hormone therapy will work in individual patients. This information will allow doctors to better personalise cancer treatment so that each patient will receive the medicine that will work best for them.

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“The NZ Breast Cancer Foundation is committed to pushing for new frontiers in early detection and treatment of breast cancer and support for patients. Hypoxia and the role of genes in hormone therapy are both areas of great interest to us, and to researchers worldwide. When we were reviewing the research project proposals, both these applicants stood out and were very highly regarded by our assessing committee.We will be very interested to see the results of these studies and the contribution their findings could make in the treatment of breast cancer.We congratulate our recipients and are excited by the calibre of research happening in New Zealand, and the hope it offers to breast cancer patients and their families,” says Evangelia Henderson, chief executive, NZ Breast Cancer Foundation.

The NZBCF Belinda Scott Fellowship Programme

The NZBCF Fellowship Programme has been offered to breast cancer researchers for the past three years, and was recently renamed to honour Dr Belinda Scott, breast surgeon and previous chair of NZBCF’s medical advisory committee, and her contribution over the life of the organisation. Dr Scott’s passion for her patients and her commitment to clinical implementation of advances resulting from research embody the spirit in which the Fellowship is awarded.

The Fellowships are open to applicants from any specialty group in the field of breast cancer; for example, pathology, radiology, radiation oncology, medical oncology, surgery, public health or general practice. Applications are welcome for either clinical or basic science research, promoting advances in the prevention, cause, detection, diagnosis and management of breast cancer, including survivorship.

The Fellowships are funded by donations from the New Zealand public to the NZBCF, through various fundraising activities like the Pink Ribbon Breakfast in May, and other fundraising events during October, as well as sponsor donations.

Find out more about the NZBCF Belinda Scott Fellowship Programme.