The faces behind the research - Latest news • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

The faces behind the research

Ever wondered what it’s like to work in breast cancer research? Get to know two inspiring scientists.

Dr Vanessa Lattimore and Dr Barbra Lipert are working on breast cancer research projects here in New Zealand. These women were the recent recipients of our BCFNZ fellowships, which will help them to continue their work. Speaking to these ladies gives us an idea of what it’s like to work in the field of breast cancer research.

Although Vanessa Lattimore didn’t initially have a specific career in mind, she has always been fascinated by genetics. After graduating, she became a research assistant, until deciding she wanted to lead her own research projects. Vanessa started to look for PhD opportunities and the rest was history.

You may have been referred for genetic testing due to a family background of breast cancer. Although awareness of the BRCA mutation (the “Angelina Jolie gene”) is on the rise, there is still lots to learn about the genetic risks associated with breast cancer. Dr Lattimore will be exploring BRCA mutations in greater depth, as well as looking at other, lesser-known mutations.

Vanessa is hopeful that in the future, we’ll get better at recognising those at risk. A greater knowledge base surrounding individual genetic makeup and susceptibility to breast cancer will be hugely advantageous.

“I feel a great sense of fulfillment working in the field of genetics,” Vanessa says.

“Making a positive difference to New Zealand families, especially women, is the most important part of my work.”

For Barbara Lipert working in research is a real family effort. She often has to deal with the dilemma of finding the right balance between academic work and the home. Luckily for her, she has a very understanding and cooperative husband and children!

Barbara became interested in biological sciences in high school; she can recall visiting a laboratory and being fascinated by the analysis of DNA sequences.

"It was a fascinating encounter with practical biology, and I decided that I really wanted to take part in it," says Barbara.

Later, the decision to establish her own practical biology career was reinforced by the loss of both her parents to cancer. Resistance to cancer medication - when a drug stops working- is a problem for some patients, leading to treatment being stopped or changed. Barbara’s research will be looking into why some patients become resistant to cancer drugs, such as the new drug for advanced HER2+ breast cancer, named Kadcyla.

Barbara hopes that her research will lead to improvements in cancer therapy across New Zealand, with the potential to stop resistance emerging for some patients. She is excited about the future development of new anticancer drugs and for more personalised cancer treatment programs.

The work of researchers such as like Vanessa Lattimore and Barbra Lipert is vital for a greater understanding of how we can tackle breast cancer.

If you’ve been inspired by the idea of research or want to know more about the current projects being undertaken please visit our website or contact