Research Professor

Mike Berridge

Mike Berridge was born in Auckland and grew up in Dargaville, Northland. He quickly realised that his strengths lay in mathematics and science rather than in languages, and 'I went in that space where I felt comfortable and where I did the best, and that's sort of been the underpinning aspect of my life and my life in science'. Mike enrolled in a BSc the University of Auckland in 1964, where his interests were in the sciences and in 'mathematics at the level that was required in pure maths, pure physics, and pure chemistry'. In 1967, he began his MSc with Dick Matthews, a world-renowned plant virologist. He was based in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Auckland, which was accommodated in an army Nissan Hutt on the premises of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research campus in Mount Albert. He completed his MSc with Ray Ralph in 1969 and was awarded his PhD in 1971.

Mike Berridge at graduation in 1969, and his supervisors, Ray Ralph and Dick Matthews.

Mike's PhD thesis initially focused on crown gall formation in tobacco plants, supported by a Cancer Society Research Fellowship. He notes 'there are some real ironies here, with the Cancer Society funding basic research on aberrant cell growth in tobacco plants!' The Department of Microbiology shifted to the new Thomas Building in Symonds Street in 1968. Mike describes how departmental tensions played out throughout his PhD between virologists, microbiologists and those working with higher organisms, with genomic complexity being the bone of contention. At that time, 'the genetic code had just been solved; it was a really exciting period of understanding how the science of genetics was linked to protein synthesis and function and so to growth and development'.


The Department of Microbiology vacating the Nissan Hutt in 1968. Mike Berridge.

After completing his PhD at the University of Auckland in 1971, Mike moved overseas for a postdoctoral position at Purdue University and then to a staff scientist position at the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London, where he gained experience in developmental cell and molecular biology. He returned to New Zealand in 1976 as the second Malaghan Research Fellow and in 1978 became one of the founding members of the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, then known as the Wellington Cancer and Medical Research Institute. Mike joined the NZSO that same year. As an emerging scientist who had just returned to his country of origin, he found the NZSO provided an important forum for cancer researchers, oncologists and others to meet. He joined the NZ Society for Immunology about the same time. Both professional groups generated strong, lasting friendships that were key to his career development.


Wellington Cancer and Medical Research Institute staff, 1981. Mike Berridge.

Mike spent a year in Ed Golub's immunology laboratory at Purdue University in 1979 learning how to make monoclonal antibodies needed for his bone marrow stem cell research in Wellington. He started attending NZSO meetings regularly and served as vice president, then president from 1993 to 1994, and again from 2009 to 2011. He also convened or co-convened four NZSO meetings in Wellington. The organisers, primarily scientists in those days, had 'enormous difficulty' attracting clinicians to attend meetings because of their clinical commitments. The high mortality rates of cancer patients meant they often presented grim survival data. He discusses spectacular changes in mortality rates during the 'golden era of cytotoxic drugs', particularly in childhood cancers, and in germline cancers. More recently, the presidency of NZSO has alternated biennially between scientist and clinician, a move he believes has considerably strengthened the organisation..

In 2010, Mike started to compile documents about the history of the NZSO. He got in touch with the founder, Maarire (Murray) Goodall, to learn his perspective on the initial development of the Society. The two had become reacquainted when Maarire collected in street appeals for the Malaghan Institute, but unfortunately, he passed away a few years later. Mike explains that while members have differing perspectives on the history of the Society, overall it has been 'a remarkable success story serving a need to connect cancer researchers with patients through medical professionals. These relationships greatly facilitated what is now referred to as translational research'. Over the last five decades, the NZSO has 'matured as an organisation with scientists, oncologists and others enthusiastically supporting annual meetings and ensuring the society's future'.

Mike is currently the Cancer Cell Biology Programme Leader and a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, and a Research Professor at Victoria University of Wellington. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 1998 and served as president of the NZ Association of Scientists from 2000 to 2002. He was a James Cook Fellow in health sciences from 2003 to 2005 and was awarded the Liley Medal from the Health Research Council of New Zealand in 2016 for his outstanding contribution to health and medical sciences in the field of cellular metabolism. He received the NZSO Translational Research Award in the same year.


Mike Berridge's and Melanie McConnell's research groups with clinical hematologist, Robert Weinkove (front left) who obtained a PhD at the Malaghan Institute and is now employed as a clinician/researcher.