Cancers of the gastrointestinal tract are common in New Zealand. We have some of the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the world. While some of these cancers have a hereditary aspect, many are caused by random and unpredictable genetic mutations. This means that attention to symptoms and uptake of screening offers is very important. 

Researchers in the Gut Health Network are studying colorectal cancer from four fronts. 

Firstly, we are studying how the immune response detects and eliminates tumours, and how we can predict the outcome of patients by measuring their ongoing anti-tumour immune responses. We are also investigating how the new immune therapies could be effective in colorectal cancer.

Secondly, we are studying the genetic variability of colorectal tumours from patients – this could lead to targeted treatments for individuals.

Gut Health researchers in Christchurch are focussed on determining whether colonic carriage of certain bacterial species occurs more often in patients recently diagnosed with CRC compared to age-matched controls. We are also investigating how carriage of these “driver” bacteria might increase the risk of pre-cancerous changes, and how dietary intervention might act to modify a bacterial phenotype and/or the host response to reduce the risk of disease.

Finally, we are studying the epidemiology of colorectal cancer to determine the risks involved in developing the disease.


Consumer Partners

Beat Bowel Cancer Aotearoa  -
Centre for Translational Cancer Research -

University of Otago -




Prof. Roslyn Kemp, PhD

Professor, Immunologist, Assoc. Dean of Research, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Otago


Assoc. Prof. Mark Thompson-Fawcett, MB ChB(Auck) MD FRACS

Associate Professor, Surgeon, Department of Surgical Sciences, University of Otago


Assoc. Prof. Jacqui Keenan, MApplSci, PhD

Research Associate Professor, Microbiologist, Department of Surgery, University of Otago, Christchurch


Dr. Kirsten Ward-Hartstonge

Research Fellow, Immunologist, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Otago, New Zealand.