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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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Cancer researchers Dr Andrea t Mannetje (left) and Dr Mona Jeffreys.
Cancer researchers Dr Andrea ‘t Mannetje (left) and Dr Mona Jeffreys.

Cancer researchers join Centre

The appointment of two more Postdoctoral Research Fellows within the Centre for Public Health Research is part of a major new cancer research programme, says Centre Director, Professor Neil Pearce.

Dutch-born Dr Andrea ‘t Mannetje will work on studies of occupational causes of bladder cancer, leukaemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in New Zealand. The studies are being conducted with Occupational Safety and Health (OSH). She will also develop studies of specific industries, such as exposure to chemicals within the timber treatment industry. These will expand the work of CPHR postdoctoral research fellow Dave McLean, who has been investigating the causes of high cancer risks within the meat industry, and is about to start a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). While working at the Institut Municipal d’Investigacio Medica (IMIM) in Barcelona, Dr ‘t Mannetje undertook a major study of links between occupational exposures and bladder cancer within European men and women. More recently she’s been with IARC in Lyon, France.

“ When I was in Lyon I came out here for three weeks to help Dave McLean set up his programme of occupational cancer cohort studies. During that period I discovered this strong interest within the Centre in developing occupational epidemiology programmes. So Wellington became the ideal location for my postdoctoral studies.”

Irish-born Dr Mona Jeffreys did her PhD in cancer epidemiology at the University of Bristol. Her particular interest is breast cancer. New Zealand’s breast cancer rates are higher than other developed countries.

“ I’m interested in life-long exposures, particularly in adolescence, and the long-term effects of this on breast cancer risk in later life,” she says.

“ There has been very little work done in New Zealand on why people get breast cancer, so I’ll be setting up a study which will look at the major risk factors for breast cancer in New Zealand at different ages.”

Dr Jeffreys has a particular interest in links between being overweight and breast cancer rates.

“ There’s a strong proven relationship between being overweight post-menopausally and breast cancer, so I’ve been extending that, looking at the subsequent breast cancer rates if you’re overweight in your 20s.”

Professor Pearce says the two appointments represent a major step forward for cancer research within the University.

“ One in four people get cancer at some time in their lives and one in five die from it. We also know the differences between Mäori and non-Mäori life expectancy rates are partly due to cancer.”

Professor Pearce says that the causes of cancer – particularly breast cancer – in New Zealand are under-researched.

“ And while cancer is increasingly becoming a priority for the Government in terms of public health interventions, not much attention has been given to occupational cancer until very recently. We hear a lot about the 50-100 deaths a year from workplace injury, but very little about the almost 500 deaths a year from occupational cancer.

“ That is why we have these two initiatives under way, and why it’s good that we can attract two researchers of this calibre from the other side of the world. We see this as not only an opportunity to do research that will be of interest both internationally and in New Zealand; we also intend to take this opportunity to train Mäori and Pacific researchers who will work on these studies and then develop their own cancer research programmes.”

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