All for One

Cancer Immunologist, Associate Professor Roslyn Kemp has a big goal: to find the most effective cancer treatment for each individual cancer patient.

“We have a lot of very successful treatment options for patients, but deciding who gets what, given the risks of each treatment, is very difficult,” she says. “My research goal is to use the patient's immune response to predict how they will react to different therapies, their ultimate outcome, and to identify new immune-based treatments.

“I would like the oncologist to be able to tell their patient that they can provide a personalised treatment regimen and to use that patient's own immune response to do it. This gives everybody a feeling of ownership over their outcome and hopefully a sense of control over their treatment in a very confusing and upsetting time.”

Cancer Research Trust New Zealand has supported Dr Kemp for many years with several grants as she and her team from Otago University’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology have advanced their research. Their focus is on identifying and understanding immune responses to cancer to offer patients better diagnoses, prognoses and treatment. Much of her work has been focused on colorectal cancer but would be applicable to many other cancers.

“For scientists like me starting their own laboratory with a completely new research programme, funding from the Trust was vital,” she said. “The Trust recognised the benefit of sponsoring risky yet innovative research, and recently awarded us another grant to use brand new technologies to study the tumour environment – these technologies have never been used in colorectal cancer. Our research is immediately applicable to patients, as well as providing new ideas for further research in the field.”

Dr Kemp is using these new technologies - mass cytometry and multiplex imaging - to study multiple proteins on individual cells, but with the ability to look at multiple cells in one experiment.

“This means that we can look at all of those cells and molecules in the context of all the other ones. These new technologies enable us to study the entirety of the immune response in an individual,” she says. “It just means that the analysis is way harder.”

Currently, Dr Kemp and the team are analysing 40 plus individual proteins on cells recovered from the tumours of people with colorectal cancer.

“We’re looking at changes and differences in patterns of immune responses rather than concentrating on just one cell type at a time. Our goal is to find new targets for immune based therapy, and to identify which patients are likely to respond to currently available therapies.”

Dr Kemp did not set out in life to become one of the country’s leading immunologists. She was leaning towards physics and zoology before being so inspired by immunology lecturer, Assistant Professor Glenn Buchan at Otago University, that she changed her degree course to his subject.

After an Honours degree, a PhD and post-doctoral fellowships at prestigious institutions in the USA and the UK, she returned to Otago, where she now teaches immunology and researches immune responses to cancer.

“The support from Cancer Research Trust New Zealand has been essential for establishing my research programme and for supporting a new generation of cancer researchers. Without the support and constructive criticism from Cancer Research Trust NZ, I would not have achieved any of these research goals,” she said.

Associate Professor Roslyn Kemp was awarded four grants from Cancer Research Trust of New Zealand totalling $353,176. The grants were awarded in 2016, 2014, 2013, and 2011.


Cancer Research Trust New Zealand is the country’s second biggest independent cancer research charity, funding over $15 million in research and professional development projects since 2002. The Trust provides grants to support New Zealand-based initiatives that will lead to improvements in the prevention, detection, diagnosis or treatment of all types of cancer, or improvements in palliative care. To learn more visit:

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