Royal Society honours for three Maurice Wilkins Centre investigators
27 October 2016
Three Maurice Wilkins Centre principal investigators have been announced as Fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand this week, an honour recognising their international distinction in research and scholarship.
Professor Tony Merriman, Deputy-Director Peter Shepherd and Director Rod Dunbar join 16 other Maurice Wilkins Centre investigators already elected as Fellows of the Royal Society.
The Fellowships are annually conferred to the nation’s top researchers for demonstrating distinction in research or in the advancement of science, technology or the humanities.
Professor Tony Merriman
Principal Investigator Professor Tony Merriman from the University of Otago has been recognised for his major contributions to the pre-clinical and clinical science of autoimmune diseases and gout in New Zealand, particularly amongst Māori and Pacific people. His gout studies have found that 60 per cent of cases could be linked to genetic causes rather than just lifestyle factors.
Professor Merriman is currently co-leading a Maurice Wilkins Centre flagship research programme to study New Zealander’s genetic predisposition to obesity and diabetes.
Professor Peter Shepherd
Deputy Director Peter Shepherd, a professor of cell signalling at the University of Auckland, has been recognised for his important contributions to understanding how defects in the PI 3-kinase signalling pathway contribute to cancer and diabetes. The PI 3-kinase enzyme is an important cancer drug target.
In 2008, alongside fellow investigator Distinguished Professor Bill Denny, Professor Shepherd established spinout company Pathway Therapeutics to develop inhibitors of PI 3-kinase. In 2011, the enzyme inhibiting drug PWT33597 reached phase I clinical trials in cancer patients.
Professor Shepherd now co-leads three flagship research programmes at the Maurice Wilkins Centre: hormones controlling metabolism; how bariatric surgery improves glucose homeostasis; and molecular approaches to cancer therapy.
Professor Rod Dunbar
Professor Rod Dunbar, Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre and a professor of human cellular immunology at the University of Auckland, was recognised for his contributions to the understanding of T-cell biology. Professor Dunbar investigates how T-cell responses to tumours arise and how these T-cell responses can be stimulated in cancer therapy. His work has accelerated the advent of successful cancer immunotherapies, peptide-based vaccines and a novel approach to skin engineering.
Professor Dunbar co-leads two flagship research programmes at the Maurice Wilkins Centre: harnessing the immune system to treat cancer; and viral proteins as vaccine components and drug targets. He has been Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre, New Zealand’s largest Centre of Research Excellence, since 2008.
Professors Merriman, Shepherd and Dunbar join 16 other Maurice Wilkins Centre investigators as Fellows of the Royal Society of New Zealand.