Cancer Society research history

We were established in 1929 when the New Zealand Branch of the British Empire Cancer Campaign opened with the ‘conquest of cancer’ as its mission.

The aim was to establish and maintain an association of people and organizations interested in the alleviation, prevention, and cure of cancer.

The objectives were to:

  • provide consultation clinics in the four main centres, and
  • advance cancer research.

Data on patient demographics and cancer types and sites were collected at the clinics. Statistics were initially collated by the Otago/Southland Division, then from 1939 by the Auckland Division. It was not until 1946, with the establishment of the Government Statistic Department, that this role was no longer required of the Cancer Society.

  • Otago Southland Division housed the first Research Laboratory in New Zealand, sited at Otago Medical School. The Laboratory conducted studies on causation, nature, bio-chemical reactions, prevention and treatment of cancer.
  • In 1939 the Christchurch Laboratory started as a Radio-Physics Laboratory, then became the Dominion x-ray & Radium Laboratory in 1947.
  • In 1950 the Auckland Cancer Laboratory commenced.

 Over the early years many other research projects were also sponsored by different Divisions and gradually the focus of research narrowed and became more specialised.

  • In 1958 Dunedin was given a deep x-ray machine to work on the effects of radiation on living cells. Then in 1959 work on the effects of hormones on different growths commenced
  • The Auckland Laboratory worked on tumour transplantation then researched anti-tumour agents in plants or experimental chemotherapy which led to discovery of anti-leukaemia drug meta-AMSA marketed as amsacrine in 1983.
  • By 1969 the Christchurch Research Unit was undertaking investigations into cytogenic changes in Leukaemia

In 1969 Travelling Fellowships commenced and between 1970-74 Clinical schools in universities in New Zealand were funding increased amounts of research in New Zealand.