Māori taking cancer research head on after award win

By Stefan Dimitrof

Ngāti Toa Rangatira researcher Helena Abolins-Thompson, is helping to change the landscape in cancer research, and is being recognised with a tohu from the inaugural Māori Early Career Development in Cancer Research Awards.

The awards, a collaboration between Hei Āhuru Mōwai', (a Māori cancer research leadership group) and 'Te Kāhui Matepukupuku o Aotearoa, the Cancer Society, aims to address health inequities, by offering three scholarships worth $160,000 each, over three years of fulltime study.

Abolins-Thompson talked to Te Ao Tapatahi today about her award and the future of her research.

She said that her motivation is to discover the baseline data for Māori cancer rates as the current rates are based on European statistics.

“We can reduce cancer down to a single cell level and we can get a better picture of what is going on with the disease, so we can find better treatments for our Māori population for breast cancer, ovarian cancer and for heart disease patients.”

The ultimate goal Abolins-Thompson says is the discovery “of the target that is more suitable for the Māori population. If we are able to understand the disease affecting a Māori person, then we can treat them more effectively, reducing those medical inequities."

Abolins-Thompson hopes that her award has shown a positive example for rangatahi and that it is possible to make it in the field of medical research. “There is support out there for them to do it.”

Abolins-Thompson says she has a personal motivation in her pursuit of knowledge in the research of cancer as many in her family have been affected by breast cancer." I want to see less cancer in our communities and, if they do get diagnosed, then I want Māori to be treated better.”

Her research will be done here in New Zealand and with an institute in the United States in Boston in the US as the work is collaborative.