Expert hits out at breast cancer research being put on hold during lockdown, warns consequences will be devastating

A leading women's health expert says breast cancer research has been put on hold for the past three months due to COVID-19 and the consequences will be devastating.

The head of Medical Genetics at Auckland University Professor Andrew Shelling says patients will suffer as a result.

Mum-of-two Amy Carr is living on borrowed time.

She was just 38, and pregnant with her first son Nico, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

"It was a major shock because it's something that you never think is going to happen to you or anybody you know," Amy told Newshub. 

After chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy, Amy thought she had won her fight against cancer. But then four years later, she found out it had come back - except this time, it was stage four.

"I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Basically, that's it - that's the end. That's terminal, there's no going back from there, there's no cure," Amy says. 

Amy says her two boys are her reason to keep living.

"Who is going to hold them when they fall over? Who is going to be there for the wonderful times where they get a gold medal in something that they love?" she says. 

Amy was told she'd be lucky to see her son River's fifth birthday. He's now six. 

She puts it down to both medical and holistic treatment.

Professor Andrew Shelling is the head of Medical Genetics at the University of Auckland. He dedicates his time to finding life-changing and life-saving treatments.

But because of lockdown, that work has completely stopped.

"The laboratories in the faculty have been shut for the last three months. We've had very little access and essentially most of our research has stopped," Andrew told Newshub. 

COVID guidelines mean Professor Shelling and at least 600 other researchers have been locked out of the labs at the University of Auckland.

He says the outcome is devastating.

"We've had to destroy some of the samples that we've collected and some of the cells we've been growing for a number of years - they've all had to be destroyed. That has had major implications for our research projects carrying on," he says. 

In a statement, the University of Auckland says its priority is keeping people safe.

"Under level 3, some researchers have been doing essential work but people are not allowed on campus without express permission," the University says. 

"Where research cannot be done remotely, there is an established process for researchers to apply to their local faculty or research unit to access campus facilities to continue their research."

"These local areas review and prioritise applications to ensure safe occupancy levels, especially where researchers are sharing specialised research space and equipment."

Professor Shelling says breast cancer researchers have been sidelined. 

"We've been told that only priority research can occur at the moment during level 3, but I would argue... we only do priority research. We only do research that is going to change people's lives otherwise we wouldn't be here.

"Now that we're down to level 3, people are allowed back in shops, back in schools and yet we're not allowed to carry on with our research - and we don't think that's fair."

He says it's going to have a knock-on effect for breast cancer patients in the future. 

"Every day in New Zealand eight women here get breast cancer, and two women die. Breast cancer hasn't stopped because we haven't been able to do our research," he says. 

Amy says it's devastating because every day is crucial for those living with the illness. 

"I think it's sad, because we don't have time. We need to throw everything at this because I believe that the medical side of it has so much to offer," she says. 

Like prolonging and saving lives.