Faculty of Science - Leading creativity and innovation in the sciences

Biomedical Science - Year 3 suggested options

Cancer Biology and Therapeutics

The control and cure of cancer still remains a substantial challenge. Considerable innovative research is undertaken by a wide network of cancer researchers throughout the University. This includes the internationally renowned Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACRSC) in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, which has successfully developed numerous anti-cancer drugs. The multi-disciplinary cancer research within the network ranges from understanding the genetic, molecular and cellular basis of the disease, the design and development of new drugs and novel therapeutic strategies, as well as strong translational links to the Oncology clinic. The background provided by the courses in this theme provides students with a wide range of knowledge applicable to the multi-disciplinary nature of this research field. Current research can be divided into a number of interlinking areas including:

Cancer biology: includes the study of the genetics and molecular pathways of the disease in cell models of both solid tumours and haematological malignancies. Other research includes the use of genomics and bioinformatics to understand the disease in patient tumours.

Cancer causation: includes the study of mutagenesis by chemical and dietary carcinogens and strategies to decrease risk of cancer development by modulation of dietary components.

Clinical pharmacology and pharmacokinetics of these agents. Current approaches include the investigation of selectively activated prodrugs and use of the vascular and immune components of tumour growth as potential therapeutic strategies. Other research includes the design and conduct of clinical and translational trials as well as understanding of the genomic and pharmacological factors which influence variable response and dose limiting side effects of drugs.

For further information or advice contact:

Dr Nuala Helsby
School of Medical Sciences
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 89831
Email: n.helsby@auckland.ac.nz

Dr Jack Flanagan
School of Medical Sciences
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 89728
Email: j.flanagan@auckland.ac.nz


Cardiovascular Biology

Imagine a single cardiac muscle cell contracting. These cells, in combination with other cells, form the heart. The heart's rhythm and function are regulated by the central nervous system and gives rise to blood vessel tone and blood pressure. This is the essence of the breadth of cardiovascular research covered within the University of Auckland.

Cardiovascular disease kills 50% of the population and is a major area of health and research expenditure worldwide. The University of Auckland contains the largest and most respected grouping of cardiovascular researchers in New Zealand. Students choosing cardiovascular biology have an enormous range of research laboratories to choose from including molecular and cellular issues relating to cardiac muscle cells and blood vessels, heart structure and function, control of blood pressure, fetal and neonatal cardiovascular physiology, and human cardiovascular studies.

There is large demand for graduates in cardiovascular biology in such varied employment areas as drug development, pharmaceutical sales, fundamental research, teaching, clinical research, patent attorneys, biotechnology companies and hospitals.

For further information or advice contact:

Associate Professor Laura Bennet
School of Medical Sciences
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 84890
Email: l.bennet@auckland.ac.nz

Dr Carolyn Barrett
School of Medical Sciences
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 86909
Email: c.barrett@auckland.ac.nz


Cellular and Molecular Biomedicine

The primary objective of biomedical research is to understand biological processes in normal and diseased tissues at the cellular and molecular level. This option offers students a chance to focus their study at a fundamental level and apply it to the widest possible range of biomedical research themes. The emphasis is on how basic studies in molecular and cellular biology contribute to the development of knowledge in a variety of biomedical fields. Students will gain first-hand experience in the application of state-of-the art technologies including genomics and proteomics, biomolecular structure analysis, cellular imaging and electrophysiology. Research interests of affiliated staff cover gene structure and expression, molecular cell biology and the structure and function of biomolecules as applied to molecular neuroendocrinology, metabolic regulation, diabetes and insulin resistance, molecular virology, membrane transport, cellular physiology and drug development. Fourth year studies for the Cellular and Molecular Biomedicine option could include courses that cover techniques in genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics, the application of transgenic methods to the biomedical industry, current themes in biomedical research, biomolecular structure and function or applications of recombinant DNA technology to biomedicine.
For further information or advice contact:

Dr David Goldston
School of Biological Sciences
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 84607
Email: d.goldstone@auckland.ac.nz

Dr Chris Squire
School of Biological Sciences
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 87237
Email: c.squire@auckland.ac.nz


Genetics and Development

We are in the midst of the genomic revolution, where incredible advances in our ability to sequence DNA have greatly expanded our understanding of the genetic changes that underlie human diseases. We now know that diseases can result anywhere from a single change in a single gene, through to the combination of effects from a very large number of gene variants spread across the genome. Furthermore, the ability to cheaply and easily sequence large amounts of DNA are enabling us to understand how populations differ at the genetic level, and how these genetic differences are structured in populations. Combining our understanding of the genetic basis of disease, of how genetic variation is structured in populations, and of how the genetic material is inherited is enabling us to use genetic and genomic information to better predict, diagnose, and treat disease. However, it is also revealing how much more we have to learn about how genotype translates to phenotype. This option in Genetics will explore key advanced topics in genetics and genomics. Many of the fundamental principles of genetics and genomics are extraordinarily conserved between diverse organisms. Therefore, a major focus in this Genetics option is the use of model organisms as convenient and powerful systems that provide fundamental knowledge directly applicable to the study of human disease. The Genetics option will also cover practical aspects for how genetic and genomic data are generated and analysed, including the use of bioinformatics approaches to computationally analyse large amounts of DNA sequence data. This Genetics option would suit students in all areas of biomedicine who interested in understanding how to use genetic information to better understand and treat human disease.

For further information or advice contact:

Dr Austen Ganley
School of Biological Sciences
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 82906
Email: a.ganley@auckland.ac.nz


Microbiology and Immunology

The course of infectious disease in humans is determined by the replication and spread of microbial pathogens on the one hand and the ability of the host immune system to recognise and eliminate these invaders on the other. Outcomes of these competing processes are determined through the spectrum of molecular interactions made between the host and invading pathogen. Thus the Microbiology and Immunology option integrates two of the most active areas of biomedical research: the molecular microbiology of bacteria, viruses and microbial eukaryotes together with the nature and complexity of the immune response triggered by their infection of animal hosts. The overall objective is to give students an insight into the interactions between pathogens and host at the molecular level and to provide a view of the human immune system as both an effective barrier to disease and the major driving force behind microbial evolution.

Course material will focus on major current themes in molecular microbiology with emphasis on signalling within microbial communities, analysis of microbial genomes, the structural biology of microbes and the molecular basis of microbial pathogenesis. A medical perspective is also included that addresses how bacteria perceive and respond to the host environment as well as the emergence of novel pathogenic microbes, the re-emergence of old ones and the problem of antibiotic resistance. From the immune system perspective this option will focus on the diversity and regulation of host processes that are active during various infections, the genes and proteins involved in innate and adaptive immunity, and how the immune system distinguishes self from non-self. Links between the immune and nervous systems and how these influence physiological and behavioural responses to infection are also covered. Research groups are active in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and the School of Biological Sciences, providing many exciting opportunities for postgraduate research projects in this area.

For further information or advice contact:

Associate Professor Roger Booth
School of Medical Sciences
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 86475
Email: rj.booth@auckland.ac.nz



Neurobiology is one of the fastest growing areas of modern biomedical science. Research in this field deals with structures and mechanisms that underlie the function of the brain and nervous system in health and disease. The approaches used are interdisciplinary and integrate knowledge from the level of the molecule to that of the most complex neural systems. Neurobiology is an area in which The University of Auckland is particularly strong with numerous research groups acknowledged as world leaders in their fields. Multi-disciplinary teams in the Faculty of Medical and Health Science are working on the development of the nervous system, the cellular basis of learning and behaviour, mechanisms of hearing and vision, control of the cardiovascular system by the central nervous system, regulation of feeding behaviour and body weight; and the molecular and cellular basis of neurodegenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease and on stem cell repair in these disorders. These groups employ techniques ranging through molecular biology, biophysics, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, gene therapy and a range of modern imaging methods. Functional brain imaging is being used to investigate aspects of cognition and behaviour in the Department of Psychology, while computer modelling and neurophysiology are being combined in the School of Biological Sciences to study the role of the cerebellum in the coordination and control of movement.

For further information or advice contact:

Associate Professor Johanna Montgomery
Department of Physiology
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 89828
Email: jm.montgomery@auckland.ac.nz

Dr Justin Dean
Department of Physiology
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 86201
Email: j.dean@auckland.ac.nz



Nutrition is central to the maintenance of good health, and fundamental to biomedical science. While nutrients were traditionally considered necessary for preventing deficiency diseases, it is increasingly clear that inappropriate diet may be responsible for almost half of the global burden of Non Communicable Diseases, as well as significantly enhancing susceptibility to Communicable Diseases.  More generally, “chronic disease” related to diet covers a range of disorders including abdominal obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, osteoporosis, arthritis, and inflammatory disease. There is a considerable nutrition-related skill base across the University of Auckland, both in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and in the School of Biological Sciences which also runs the Human Nutrition Unit in Mt Eden, with several groups focused on different research areas ranging from molecular nutrition through to population-based studies, and also including clinically related examples. This option covers a range of topics in nutrition and metabolism, the role of nutrients in signal transduction and the exciting new field of nutritional genomics (or nutrigenomics), which considers the influence of the genome on nutrition and has the potential to provide tailored nutritional advice.

For further information or advice contact:

Associate Professor Clare Wall
School of Medical Sciences
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 89875
Email: c.wall@auckland.ac.nz


Reproduction, Growth and Metabolism

You may not have thought about it yet, but it is likely that you believe that when the time is right you will choose to have children and that they will be normal and healthy. This is everyone’s expectation. Unfortunately for one in six couples, infertility, miscarriages and other diseases of pregnancy prevent this expectation from coming to fruition. Further to this, one in five children resulting from a successful pregnancy will still develop obesity, diabetes and health related complications as they grow through puberty, into adulthood. In this option you will learn about reproduction in both humans and animals. You will study the normal development of humans from before conception through to development of the fetus. You will find how life in utero is different to life as we know it, and discover the problems that may be encountered in utero and how we are working to overcome these. While some of us will maintain a healthy weight into adulthood, others will be predisposed to developing metabolic diseases, obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, so you will learn how hormones and growth factors regulate metabolism and what goes wrong when metabolic diseases develop.

The University of Auckland has a long tradition of excellence in reproductive science, growth and metabolism that continues today. Research groups in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Department of Physiology,  and The Liggins Institute focus on fertility/infertility, ovarian function and failure, reproductive cancers, preterm birth, fetal development, protection of the newborn from brain injury, and the causes of miscarriages and other diseases of pregnancy. Research groups in the Department of Physiology, Molecular Medicine and Pathology and the Department of Medicine focus on hormones, growth factors and cell signalling mechanisms involved in fetal development. 

For further information and advice contact:

Dr Lynsey Cree
School of Medicine
Phone: +64 373 7599 ext 81695
Email: l.cree@auckland.ac.nz


For general enquires regarding academic content contact:

Dr Kate Angel
Director, BSc Biomedical Science
Email: c.angel@auckland.ac.nz