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Prestigious award for cancer researcher

11 September 2016

Cancer biologist Professor Antony Braithwaite has received the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) Shorland Medal in recognition of his work on the tumour suppressor protein p53 and other cancer associated genes. 

The award acknowledges major and continued research that has significantly contributed to an understanding of cancer biology. Professor Braithwaite, a Maurice Wilkins Centre Principal Investigator from the University of Otago, accepted the award at a ceremony in Wellington on Thursday.  

Professor Braithwaite is widely regarded as an expert on the molecular mechanisms of cancer. He is a managing Principal Investigator for the Maurice Wilkins Centre, a national Centre of Research Excellence, in which he co-leads a research flagship programme investigating genomic approaches to cancer diagnosis and treatment. He also is the leader of a Health Research Council Programme Grant.

Professor Braithwaite’s research focuses on the regulation of cell proliferation, cell survival and the role of p53. He has been researching the p53 protein for 30 years.

“The p53 protein is regarded as one of the most important proteins in cancer biology,” Professor Braithwaite said, “because if it is defective, we will develop cancer”.

Find out more about Professor Braithwaite's p53 research in an interview with Radio New Zealand's 'Our Changing World':

Continued success

Professor Braithwaite’s latest achievement extends on the success of 2015 when he was awarded a James Cook Research Fellowship from the Royal Society of New Zealand.

The fellowship enables Professor Braithwaite to investigate another protein, YB-1, and its potential as a novel therapeutic target for treating cancer.

YB-1 is important for cancer cell growth and cancer cell survival. These functions of YB-1 may be controlled by the attachment of small phosphate molecules to the protein. Professor Braithwaite and his research team have identified several phosphorylated sites on YB-1 and are currently studying how they affect cell growth and survival.

As part of a Maurice Wilkins Centre project, the team has since been able to determine which parts of the cell-division cycle are affected when they insert modified non-phosphorylated YB-1 protein molecules into model cancer cells. The aim is to develop small molecules with the ability to block the most important phosphorylated sites and interrupt cancer cell growth, potentially leading to the development of new cancer therapies.