Cancer research boosted by Research For Life Fellowship

A new Postdoctoral Fellowship from Research For Life has been awarded to Abby Sharrock from Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Te Kura Mātauranga Koiora—School of Biological Sciences, who will use the funds to continue her cancer research.

Portrait of Abby Sharrock in a lab coat and gloves using a machine
Abby Sharrock

The Research For Life Postdoctoral Fellowship is intended to support the professional development of an outstanding early-career medical or biomedical researcher with an annual salary of up to $80,000 for one to two years.

Abby intends to use the fellowship to continue her research into the improvement of gene delivery vectors for cancer gene therapies, working alongside her mentor Professor David Ackerley, who is also based in the School of Biological Sciences

Abby says the primary focus of her fellowship will be to develop ways of engineering cells that can home in on tumours, and once there, activate a localised chemotherapy that will only target nearby cancer cells—mitigating the harsh side effects of current cancer treatments.

“A key part of this is to defend the anti-cancer cells from the toxic effects of their own chemotherapy. For this I am developing engineered enzymes that are essentially little nano-machines inside the anti-cancer cells that can repair DNA damaged by the chemotherapy.

“I have always been fascinated by the inner workings of the human body and the mysteries of life, which eventually led me to pursue study in biomedical research. The most exciting part of this work is knowing that my discoveries could help change how we treat patients with cancer and improve the lives of many.

“While many forms of chemotherapy and alternative cancer treatments are currently available, the majority are non-specific, with harsh side effects. These not only increase patient suffering, but also have counter-productive consequences for the patient’s immune system, which might otherwise help combat the cancer.”

Abby will have the opportunity to lead a distinct and independent research programme, a necessary step towards securing larger grants in the future and forging her own path in academia. She also hopes to inspire the next generation of women scientists.

“[The Fellowship] will give me the freedom to take more agency over my own career and create and develop my own research niche focused around my interests. I am extremely honoured to have been awarded this Fellowship and am excited to see how the project progresses.

“As time goes on, I hope to build my research portfolio and continue making discoveries in the field of enzyme engineering for biomedical research. Ultimately, I would like to make a lasting contribution to the biomedical research community in Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond.”

Abby is grateful for the strong support from Professor Ackerley to date, who has provided her with diverse opportunities to build a network of collaborators.

“My mentor is equally as enthusiastic about my research project as I am, which really helps motivate me to push the research forward. He has a lot of trust in my abilities which has allowed me to ‘spread my wings’ and gain confidence and independence in my research.

“Because he is a bit removed from day-to-day lab work, he is often able to see my problems from a different perspective and suggest solutions I may not have thought of.”

Research For Life is a Wellington medical research foundation supporting young, talented people to engage in medical and biomedical research. Its funding supports biomedical and clinical studies across a wide range of areas, for example, infection to vaccination, cancer detection to cancer treatment, and neurodevelopment to neurological injury. Research For Life grants support doctoral students, post-doctoral fellows and early career scientists.

Chair of Research For Life, Dr Lance Lawler, says he is delighted to award the new Postdoctoral Fellowship to Abby.

“The legacy of Fellowships awarded by the Foundation is one of which we are extremely proud, and we wish Abby all the very best with her research programme in the years to come.”

You can find more information about Research For Life here.