Bruce Baguley was born in Hamilton in 1941. He was interested in science from a very early age and spent a lot of time reading books about astronomy and atomic physics. He was also inspired by the ABC radio series, 'Drama of Medicine', which emphasised the connections between research scientists and doctors. While Bruce was interested in a career in science, 'I didn't know how to do it because there seemed to be no track there. And even, you know, when I finally decided to go to university they didn't have the subjects that I was interested in'.
Where Life's Gone Wrong (1988)
Bruce initially planned to work in a hospital laboratory after high school. He changed his mind when his older brother cautioned him: 'if you get that job all you'll do is analyse urine every day. [Laughs] So, that put me off'. He had also considered studying medicine, but the course was not yet available in Auckland. As the first member of his extended family to attend university, 'I think the idea of going to medical school [in Dunedin] was too scary for me, and Auckland was closer'. Bruce's first exposure to cancer research came when he attended a talk by Bruce Cain in the Chemistry Department in 1962. As a third-year undergraduate student, he was struck by the idea that he could study cancer and work on its treatment. He describes his decision to undertake a PhD in molecular biology.
Bruce Baguley. ACSRC.
After completing his MSc and PhD, Bruce undertook a two-year postdoctoral fellowship with Ciba Biological Research Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company located in Basel, Switzerland. He learned to speak German and sailed on MS Achille Lauro to Genoa, Italy, before taking the train to Basel. It was an 'immensely interesting' time. The company not only gave him a lot of freedom with his research but he also gained exposure to leading international scientists for whom Switzerland was a popular holiday destination. Bruce had also contacted research institutes in the United States for postdoctoral opportunities. Yet, 'I found out that if I went on an immigration visa to the States I could be eligible for drafting [for the Vietnam War], and that really influenced my decision to go to Europe'. During the second year of his fellowship, he received an invitation from Bruce Cain to join the Auckland Cancer Research Laboratory. He discusses his work with Bruce Cain following his return to New Zealand in 1968. His work also involved collaborating with clinicians, especially hematologist John Buchanan, to collect blood samples from patients at Auckland Hospital to test how they responded to an anti-cancer drug.
Bruce Cain and Bruce Baguley. ACSRC
In 1972, Bruce became the first member of the Auckland Cancer Research Laboratory to join the NZSO. He had heard about the Society that was forming in Dunedin and recalls some scepticism from his colleagues, 'I suppose it always happens when one group sets themselves up as the national centre'. He remembers the 'slight embarrassment' of accidentally interrupting a presentation during an NZSO meeting when he was visiting his sister at the University of Otago Medical School. Bruce has been a member of the NZSO ever since. He served as vice president from 1985 to 1986 and as president from 1987 to 1989. He delivered the Bruce Cain Memorial Lecture in 2009.
The 'information exchange' that the NZSO facilitated became especially important during a major clinical trial for an anti-cancer drug in 1983. It was the 'first trial of that type in New Zealand' and involved several scientists and clinicians working together. The NZSO meetings provided Bruce and his colleagues with a forum to speak to researchers in other parts of the country about their work. They had promoted the trial to honour Bruce Cain after his sudden death in January 1981. Bruce explained: 'that idea of bringing people together with different backgrounds and going all the way from molecular design to clinical trial was really what Bruce Cain wanted to happen, and it did happen. So, I think it's quite an achievement.'
Bruce is the Co-Director of the Auckland Cancer Research Centre. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to cancer research in 2002. He was awarded the Sir Charles Hercus Medal for scientific or technological work of great merit in biomedical sciences and technologies in 2006 and was appointed the title of Distinguished Professor in 2011.
Bruce delivering a seminar on his career in medical research, May 2018.