Dr Sarah Diermeier says Cancer Society research grant was essential for the translation from bench to bedside.

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Dr Sarah Diermeier arrived in New Zealand last year and is a lecturer at the University of Otago researching how tumours spread to other parts of the body.

Sarah chose a career in cancer research after losing her aunt to metastatic cancer. It was then and there Sarah decided she wanted to cure cancer. After marching to the school library to find out how, at 14 years old, she had her sights set on becoming a medical researcher. 

She went on to complete an undergraduate degree and a PhD in Germany, followed by a five-year post doctorate in the USA.

Sarah is involved in studying a new molecule (MaTAR20) found predominantly in breast cancer cells. It was found that the MaTAR20 molecule is present only in cancer cells but not in normal, healthy cells.

Sarah and her team hypothesise that this molecule impacts the spreading of breast cancer cells to other parts of the body. “Breast cancer spreading to other parts of the body is often what causes mortality, not the tumour in the breast itself,” she explains.

Developing new medicines to target these molecules will stop the cancer from spreading and significantly reduce the mortality of breast cancer.

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She and her team are currently working on developing a medicine to target MaTAR20 in breast cancer cells. Studies on cells to determine what the mechanisms are in MaTAR20 cells, while testing new medicines will allow her to see if they can stop or slow the spread of cancer.

Within the next few years, Sarah hopes to expand her current research and get it to clinical trials to ultimately get the medicine to patients as soon as possible.

This research grant from the Cancer Society was, “essential for the translation from bench to bedside". It helps bridging the gap between lab work and the clinical side and providing an opportunity to see if the medicine can work in the clinic.

Working with patients and patient communities herself and personally experiencing a number of family members with cancer, is what inspires Sarah. First-hand experience with them and seeing how cancer affects patients and their families is what keeps her going in the lab.

Loving her research she also keeps an eye on the bigger picture. Of course, always doing the best and most innovative research she can and thinking of new ideas and improving on existing ones, is a must as well.

In her spare time, Sarah is an outdoorsy person. She loves hiking, trekking and tramping in the heart of New Zealand. When she isn’t out exploring beautiful Aotearoa, she does CrossFit and obstacle races.

Staying in New Zealand, helping patients here and starting collaborations with local clinicians are some of her personal goals so she hopes for great interactions with the Cancer Society in the future!

Read about some of the other researchers we fund here.

Author: Cecilia Wang