Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu

Dianne's research is centred around developing a cancer vaccine treatment which will shortly be tested on patients.

Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu
Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Science
Faculty of Science/Malaghan Institute of Medical Research

‘Oceania is knowledgeable and full of healing power. Like the sea sponge in ocean deep, her gift restores us to life.’

I attended Cannons Creek Primary School, then Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) schooling for my intermediate years, and I’ve always been interested in science.

At Wellington Girls College I had a great science teacher who instilled in me a keen excitement for science, which has been nurtured at Victoria University of Wellington. I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Physiology (2001) a Bachelor of Biomedical Science majoring in Molecular Pathology (2003) and a Masters in Biomedical Science, passing with First Class Honours in 2007.

I’m part of a team called the Cancer Vaccine Research Group, at the Malaghan Institute. It is a highly collaborative environment. You can’t survive on your own. You can’t do experiments on your own, so sharing knowledge is vital.

We are working on a cancer vaccine treatment by developing a very unique method or recipe which will be tested on people soon. My PhD thesis is all about this.

My interest in cancer began as a child. The passing of a family friend and my mother’s own cancer scares mean the effect of cancer has always been real to me, and I wanted to find a cure.

2008 was a watershed year for me. I won the MacDiarmid Award, NZ Young Scientist Award for advancing Human Health and Wellbeing (medical category), the Colmar Brunton NZ Research Excellence Award and the Australasian Society of Immunology (ASI) (NZ Branch) in a PhD speaking competition. In the same year, the ASI also awarded me a Science Communication Award. Because of the publicity people got to hear about the work we do.

My faith is also a real positive force in my study, pulling me through, and I’m giving back to my church now through leadership for youth. It hasn’t always been easy though - juggling study, work, and parenthood with my husband Reno Paotonu, but our parents have been so helpful.

My mum Teisa Sika taught me never to give up. I’ve never been an A grade student. I just never gave up, no matter what!