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  • Writer's pictureSAMS UoA

#HumansOfMedsci with Associate Professor Nuala Helsby


Medsci students are sure to be familiar with Associate Professor Helsby with her extensive teaching schedule! As a foremost expert in Pharmacology, her fervour for her field of research is evident the way she lectures. An inspiration to be sure, read on to discover her path to where she is today.

What is your background? Where did you grow up? I am British (Irish-English ancestry, hence the unusual name). I grew up in the Industrial Northwest of England exactly halfway between Manchester and Liverpool in a small town called Newton-le-Willows. I moved to NZ quite a long time ago and I am a NZ citizen as are the rest of my family.

What are your interests outside of university life? I play hockey socially with a lovely team at Roskill-Eden Hockey club. I also enjoy fishing- but hardly ever catch anything.

What was your education pathway? I am the first person in my family to stay at school past the minimum leaving age and I was the first person to go to University.  My undergraduate degree was named Combined Sciences and the two subjects I studied were biological sciences and geology!  After completing my UG degree I wanted to work in either oil exploration or in the Antarctic, but way back then it was pretty difficult to break into this type of work as a female. Instead I worked as a technician in tropical medicine research, particularly antimalarial drugs. I was then very fortunate to be given the opportunity to undertake a PhD and that is when I first became interested in the field of pharmacogenetics.

What are you working on right now? I am fascinated by the differences between people and how this influences our individual response to drug treatments. My research group currently work on projects that try to understand the genomic factors (both inherited and epi-genetic) that influence the safe and effective use of common anticancer drugs such as 5-FU, cyclophosphamide and melphalan. I am supervising a PhD candidate who is investigating the genomics that may influence chronic pain after breast cancer surgery. I am also interested in the factors that influence response following treatment of autoimmune diseases such as lupus nephritis.

What drew you to your field of interest? Was there a particular moment you knew that this topic would be your focus? Simple good fortune! Over the years have worked in many different areas relating to drug treatments for infectious diseases and cancer. I have worked with some amazing people and in a number of wonderful institutions. Although the individual projects were very diverse, every step of the way has been a learning experience that has helped with my current interest, so I am not sure there was one particular moment where I felt I had to focus!

A paper you have contributed to of which you're most proud? I think this may have been the first paper as it was the first taste of being a scientist and my Mum and Dad were so proud. Edwards, G., Dingsdale, A., Helsby, N., Orme, M. E., & Breckenridge, A. M. (1988). The relative systemic availability of ivermectin after administration as capsule, tablet, and oral solution. European journal of clinical pharmacology35(6), 681-684.

If you could give your undergraduate self any advice, what would you tell them? Don’t be so shy and don’t over-think things!


Nuala is always happy to discuss research opportunities with students so send her an email if you are keen on her area of research for a potential studentship or beyond!


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