Fellowship enabled cancer study

Cancer researcher Dr Melanie Grant in the Octagon, Dunedin, yesterday. Photo: Linda Robertson
Cancer researcher Dr Melanie Grant in the Octagon, Dunedin, yesterday. Photo: Linda Robertson
Former Air New Zealand hostess Melanie Grant sometimes has to remind herself how far she has come in her ''fourth career'', helping with innovative childhood brain cancer treatment in the United States.

''Some days I kind of go, 'Wow, I get to do this, it's me','' she said yesterday.

''If someone had told the 16-year-old me, I wouldn't have believed it,'' she said.

Born in Auckland, she grew up in Christchurch, and enjoyed her first career as an air hostess (1992-2001), later working in small business with her husband, Darryl, until 2005, working in a third career role as a natural nutritionist, and later completing her PhD by 2016.

These days she has a University of Otago doctorate in T-cell immunotherapy and is undertaking postdoctoral work at the Children's National Medical Centre in Washington DC, in the United States.

''I work with a team of clinicians and researchers who are trying to find new and less toxic treatments for children with brain and central nervous system tumours.

''Our bodies are equipped with the best cancer-killing equipment on the planet, our immune system,'' she said during a return trip to Dunedin.

Unfortunately, cancer found ways to ''subvert or get around'' our immune system's responses but she was helping find ways to turn the anti-cancer response back on.

Since last November, she had been part of the US medical centre's ''first-in-human clinical trial'', infusing specially boosted and trained T-cells, part of the body's immune system, back into host children and young people with brain tumours.

It was ''very early days'', but early treatment results were ''very encouraging'', she said.

Dr Grant recalled the difficult situation she had faced, having gone to Otago University as an adult student in 2008 and completed a first biomedical science degree, but finding she did not qualify for university scholarship support to undertake the PhD studies she longed for.

That was when the Freemasons Southern Oncology Fellowship stepped in.

Dr Grant praised the fellowship body, which had ''backed me to the hilt'', providing more than $100,000 in PhD study funding for a 40-year-old ''retread'' who had returned to university to retrain for her fourth career.


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