GMRI scientists lead the way in solving crippling hand disease

Sabrina Koh, Deane Endowment Trust sponsored summer student

People suffering from Dupuytren’s disease could ultimately regain the function of their hands and quality of life, thanks to the international award winning work of the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute (GMRI).

Dr Swee Tan, Executive Director of the GMRI today congratulated 20-year-old Deane Endowment Trust sponsored summer student Sabrina Koh, for winning the 2017 International Dupuytren Award. Her research has also been published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open, the most prestigious plastic surgery journal in the world.

“Dupuytren’s disease causes one or more fingers to curl into the palm due to the contracting and toughening of connective tissue. While surgery is commonly used to remove the contracted tissue, it involves prolonged periods of rehabilitation and readily recurs in some patients. In extreme cases it may necessitate amputation,” said Dr Tan.

Dupuytren’s disease

While this disease is still poorly understood and treated, it affects millions of people worldwide, particularly those of Northern European descent. High profile sufferers include Bill Nighy who recently spoke about his condition on Radio New Zealand’s Saturday Morning programme.

Ms Koh’s project was based on the novel approach of focusing on the stem cell origin of Dupuytren’s disease, closely mirroring research that the GMRI is undertaking into the origins of cancer.

“Our recent research has shown that cancer stem cells are the potential origin of cancer. We believe that a combination of existing, affordable medications commonly used for other conditions can be repurposed, and used to manipulate the key pathways that control cancer stem cells and, ultimately, the progression of cancer.”

“Our objective is to create a low-cost and widely available treatment for cancer,” Dr Tan said. 

This approach has already proven successful in a small series of patients and a full clinical study is planned for later this year, subject to funding.

Dr Tan acknowledged Sir Roderick Deane and Lady Gillian Deane for their ongoing generous support of the GMRI’s summer student programme that made the Dupuytren’s disease research possible.

Ms Koh’s research was supervised by GMRI Chief Scientific Officer Dr Tinte Itinteang, and the team included plastic and hand surgeon Dr Jim Armstrong, Dr Tan, Dr Paul Davis, Dr Helen Brasch, and summer student Nicholas On.


For media enquires please contact Peter Fitzjohn on 027 740 9281

For more information and images of Dupuytren’s disease

Access the full research paper Embryonic Stem Cell–like Population in Dupuytren’s Disease





PHARMAC’s announcement timely for World Head and Neck Cancer Day


A micrograph of HPV induced throat cancer demonstrated in brown colour

“PHARMAC’s announcement of its decision to extend its HPV vaccination programme is timely given that 27 July was World Head and Neck Cancer Day,” says Dr Swee Tan, executive director of the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute (GMRI), which is involved in cutting-edge cancer research.

PHARMAC has extended the free vaccine to include year 8 boys, and has widened access for females and males to the age of 26 from January 2017.

The World Head and Neck Cancer Day ( highlights the plight of head and neck cancer patients.

The team led by Dr Tan at the GMRI, in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team caring for patients with head and neck cancer, consisting of specialists from the Wellington Blood and Cancer Centre and Department of Otolaryngology at Wellington Regional Hospital, and the Wellington Regional Plastic, Maxillofacial and Burns Unit and Department of Pathology at Hutt Hospital, have investigated the incidence and impact of HPV-induced throat cancer in New Zealand from 1994 to 2014.

The findings of the study, recently published in an international journal, have demonstrated that 81% of patients diagnosed with throat cancer during the study period were males.  It also shows that the prevalence of HPV-induced throat cancer increased from 24% during 1994 – 1999 to 76% during 2009 – 2014.

The study concludes that patients with HPV-induced throat cancer were 10 years younger at the time of diagnosis and they died 9 years earlier compared with patients with non-HPV induced throat cancer.

“Throat cancer and its treatment have devastating impacts on the quality of life and daily functioning of the patients.

“We commend PHARMAC’s decision to extend HPV vaccination to boys in New Zealand. It is a cost-effective way to prevent HPV-related throat cancer and other HPV-induced cancers in both men and women in New Zealand,” Dr Tan said.

For further information, contact Dr Swee Tan at the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute on +64 4 282 0366



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