For­mer stu­dent now can­cer re­searcher

Bay News - - NEWS -

Four years ago Olivia Burn was one of the first science stu­dents se­lected for the Bay of Plen­tyDistrict Health Board Clin­i­cal School’s Sum­mer Stu­dentship pro­gramme.

To­day she’s part of a Malaghan In­sti­tute of Med­i­cal Re­search team that ul­ti­mately could­make a huge im­pact on New Zealand’s breast can­cer sur­vival rates.

Breast can­cer is New Zealand’s third most com­mon can­cer and ac­counts for­more than 600 deaths ev­ery year. Most of these deaths are due to breast can­cer cells metas­ta­sis­ing (spread­ing) to other parts of the body, most com­monly bones and quite often this ‘re­lapse’ can oc­cur years af­ter the ini­tial can­cer treat­ment.

Olivia’s com­plet­ing her PhD as part of Malaghan’s Can­cer Im­munother­apy team, look­ing at the po­ten­tial for vac­cines to stop the can­cer spread­ing.

The Welling­ton-based team is re­search­ing breast can­cer vac­cines in dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions and con­di­tions to try to cre­ate stronger pro­tec­tion across var­i­ous or­gans.

“We­want to know if these dif­fer­ent vac­cines pro­tect dif­fer­ent or­gans against breast can­cer metas­tases that have HER2— the tar­get of the anti-breast can­cer drug Her­ceptin,” Olivia says.

Olivia’s first taste of health re­search was in the sum­mer of 2013-2014 when she was se­lected for the BOPDHB’s Clin­i­cal School Sum­mer Stu­dentship pro­gramme.

Ascience stu­dent amongst a group ofmed­i­cal stu­dents, Olivia spent the sum­mer talk­ing to­mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis (MS) pa­tients across the Bay. Work­ing with Tau­ranga Hos­pi­tal neu­rol­o­gist Dr An­drew Chan­cel­lor, the re­search looked at the im­pact of the dis­ease on the in­di­vid­ual’s qual­ity of life as it pro­gressed.

Olivia has cho­sen the med­i­cal re­search path­way be­cause she wants to be at the fore­front of deep­en­ing our un­der­stand­ing of cer­tain dis­eases, and be in­volved in de­vel­op­ing new drugs to ad­dress them.

“Un­for­tu­nately, in the set­ting of breast can­cer, our cur­rent clin­i­cal op­tions are not ef­fec­tively pre­vent­ing can­cer re­lapse,” she says. “With­myre­search I want to de­ter­mine how we can har­ness the power of the im­mune sys­tem to com­bat these resid­ual can­cer cells and keep pa­tients in re­mis­sion.”

Photo sup­plied by the Malaghan In­sti­tute of Med­i­cal Re­search

For­mer BOPDHB Clin­i­cal School sum­mer stu­dent Olivia Burn is now com­plet­ing her PhD, look­ing at the po­ten­tial for vac­cines to stop can­cer spread­ing.

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