Professor Parry Guilford
Professor Parry Guilford

26 August 2014

University of Otago Professor Parry Guilford, whose ground-breaking research into stomach cancer has saved many lives worldwide, has been presented with the prestigious Beaven Medal from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) at a special ceremony in Queenstown.

Professor Guilford is an expert in Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer (HDGC), an inherited condition associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer. His work in identifying the mutations in the CDH1 gene that lead to the onset of HDGC has benefited hundreds of New Zealanders.

The original HDGC discovery research was carried out in partnership with an affected Māori family from the Bay of Plenty. Members of families with a history of stomach cancer can now undergo a simple genetic test to determine their individual risk. Family members who have a negative test no longer have to live with the fear of getting the disease, while those testing positive can receive the necessary, lifesaving medical care. Previously, there was a 70 per cent death rate for carriers of the CDH1 mutations.

In addition to his CDH1 work, the Beaven Medal also acknowledges Professor Guilford’s key role in developing a simple urine bladder cancer test (CxBladder) that is now being commercialised in New Zealand, Australia and the USA.

As co-founder of Pacific Edge Ltd, Professor Guilford pioneered the test’s underpinning methodology, which involves using gene expression analysis to quickly and non-invasively detect patients with bladder cancer.

Last year Pacific Edge Ltd was awarded the 2013 Supreme Winner of the New Zealand Innovators Awards for developing CxBladder. Professor Guilford, who is currently Director of the University of Otago’s Centre for Translational Cancer Research, remains the company’s Chief Scientific Officer.

The Beaven Medal, named after the late Professor Sir Donald Ward Beaven, KNZM, CBE (1924–2009), recognises excellence in translating research into clinical practice.

The HRC’s Board Chair, Sir Robert Stewart, KNZM, said the review panel were unanimous in their decision to award the Beaven Medal to Professor Guilford.

“Throughout his research career, Professor Guilford has actively engaged with community partners and health care providers and shown a remarkable commitment to making a difference to the lives of patients and the health of the population,” said Sir Robert.

Professor Guilford is currently the lead investigator on two HRC-funded cancer research projects and co-investigator on two others. Earlier this month he was also awarded funding through the Breast Cancer Research Partnership (a joint initiative between the HRC, Breast Cancer Cure and The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation) for a project that aims to develop new treatments for the lobular subtype of breast cancer.