Like father, like daughter

Alice Chibnall and father, Brett Chibnall

Alice Chibnall and father, Brett Chibnall

The Gillies McIndoe Research Institute is pleased to welcome Alice Chibnall to the team.

Alice joined us after completing her Masters of Science degree in biological science, in which she was awarded first class Honours by the University of Waikato.

Alice’s research background is in stem cells. Her Masters research was conducted with AgResearch, where she studied the genetics of bovine embryonic stem cells.

Her research talents make Alice a valuable addition to the GMRI, where she’s part of a small team conducting cancer research based on our cancer stem cells concept.

Alice was first exposed to stem cell research during her studies in the University of Waikato’s Bachelor of Science (Technology) placement programme.

“It was during my undergraduate degree that I was placed at AgResearch,” she says.

“I actually didn’t think I had much of a shot getting into the programme, but my placement co-ordinator, Sue McCurdy, was really encouraging and thought it would be something I’d be good at.”

Alice says stem cell research has a variety of applications. “Stem cells can become any type of cell in the body so, in theory, it could be applied to many diseases. If you could obtain a stem cell of your own, you could generate any type of cells from your own body to replace what is missing.”

Cancer stem cells are a population of cells within a tumour which can make copies of themselves and produce new tumours (metastases) and cancer cells that comprise the bulk of the cancer. These cancer stem cells are resistant to conventional treatment such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which may explain why cancers recur after having seemingly gone into remission.

“At the GMRI, we are currently identifying the pathways that regulate these cancer stem cells and our aim is to control these with simple, effective and inexpensive medications that target these pathways,” Alice says.

Science runs in the family for Alice. Her father is a biology teacher at Hillcrest High School in Hamilton where he also taught Alice.

“He’s started saying to me that I’m at a level where he can’t really help me anymore if I have any questions, but he came down to the GMRI lab to have a look around and it was cool to show him what I’m working on.”

Alice’s near-future plans remain based around cancer stem cell research.

“I see myself staying at the GMRI for quite a while,” she says. “The team here believes that, with appropriate funding, a cure for cancer, based on a completely different paradigm, is achievable within the next 10 to 15 years.”

Until then, Alice and the GMRI team will keep doing what they’re doing. “I feel like we’re really on to something – that we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

The Founder and Executive Director of the GMRI, Dr Tan, says:  “We are very pleased to have someone of such high quality joining our team. Alice’s expertise will add considerable value to our research programme.”