Professor Stephen Robertson, Group Leader
Stephen Robertson is the Child Health Research Foundation Professor of Paediatric Genetics at the University of Otago in Dunedin. He was educated at the University of Otago, graduating in Medicine in 1990. He specialized in Paediatrics and Genetics after training at various hospitals in greater Auckland and at the Victorian Clinical Genetics Service in Melbourne from 1997—1999. From 1995—1996, he was Chief Resident of Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland.
From 1999—2002, Stephen was Nuffield Medical Fellow at St Catherine’s College, Oxford University, studying the genetic determinants of congenital malformations in children. This work was conducted in the laboratory of Professor Andrew Wilkie at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. It culminated in the publication of two papers in Nature Genetics in 2003 and 2004 outlining the role of a new family of genes, the filamins, in the generation of these conditions. He remains an active clinical geneticist attached to Genetic Health Services New Zealand, as well as continuing his research into congenital malformations.
The Curekids Chair in Child Health Research
The Child Health Research Foundation (subsequently re-branded as Curekids) launched an initiative in 2002 to establish a chair at the University of Otago that was dedicated to aspects of child health research. A large number of corporate organizations and private individuals contributed to the establishment of the position. Most notably, four men from Queenstown – Graham Smolenksi, Jeff Turner, Wayne Cafe and Fraser Skinner – initiated an international ski endurance event – The 50k of Coronet – over five successive years from 2000—2004 to contribute over $1 million to the fund. Professor Robertson was appointed as the Inaugural Curekids Professor in late 2002 and established the Clinical Genetics Group. In 2006, in collaboration with the Government’s Partnerships in Excellence Programme and the University’s Leading Thinkers Programme, the Curekids Chair in Child Health Research was established in perpetuity.
Professor Gardner is a semi-retired medical geneticist. He is an Otago graduate, who was previously a member of the Paediatrics Department (1977—1993), before moving to the Genetic Service based at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne (1993—2007). He has broad clincal interests, with a particular focus on inherited cerebellar ataxias and chromosomal disorders. He co-authors the textbook 'Chromosome Abnormalities and Genetic Counseling', and is presently preparing a 4th edition. He shares a spot in Professor Stephen Robertson's office in the Hercus Building.
I began my research studying the molecular genetics of wool at the AgResearch Molecular Biology Unit, University of Otago, completing my doctorate in 1998. I went on to carry out postdoctoral research at the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Uppsala University Sweden (1998—2000) studying protein translation. I continued this research at the Childrens Hospital Oakland Research Institute, USA (2000—2002), in addition to studying the regulation of iron homeostasis in patients with sickle cell anaemia and β-thalassemia. Returning to New Zealand in 2003, I joined the Clinical Genetics Group as a Research Fellow.
I undertook a PhD in Agricultural Engineering from the University of Brussels. I later developed an interest in developmental biology and trained as a postdoctoral fellow in the US, UK and Australia. I studied brain, muscle and lymph vessel development, mainly using zebrafish as a model system. I’ve joined Professor Stephen Robertson’s laboratory and I am currently focusing on familial osteofibrous dysplasia, a condition which affects bones.
I am a statistical geneticist and bioinformatician. Originally trained in China as a sheep geneticist, I worked on several projects including that of adapting NZ sheep to south China high countries to help farmers in poverty. I pursued a PhD in Animal Genetics and a Graduate Diploma in Applied Computing at Lincoln University from 1998 to 2002. I worked three computing jobs in NZ before joining Professor Chris Haley's lab at the University of Edinburgh in 2005. Since then I have worked on complex trait genetics for over eight years, initially on livestock (Roslin Institute) then humans from 2009 (MRC Human Genetics Unit, promoted to a Senior Investigator Scientist in 2011). I took a lecturer position in the medical school of the University of Manchester in 2013 to develop into human disease genetics and teaching. I returned to NZ and joined the Clinical Genetics Group in February 2016.
I studied towards my PhD at Leipzig University, Germany (2006-2010), carrying out research involving the biochemical and structural characterization of a cancer drug target. I went on to carry out postdoctoral research within the Biochemistry Department, Otago University (2010-2013), which involved the structural characterization of viral and host protein complexes. I then went on to carry out postdoctoral research at the North West Cancer Research Institute, Bangor University, UK (2013-2015), which involved investigating DNA repair mechanisms and their role in cancer. Returning to New Zealand in 2015, I joined the Clinical Genetics group as a Research Assistant.
I completed my MSc in Biochemistry in Professor Julian Eaton-Rye’s lab in 2000, working on photosysthesis research. From there, I started working in Professor Robin Old’s lab on bipolar disorder. Then I moved to Professor Stephen Robertson’s new lab in 2003, working mainly with Filamin A, Filamin B and WTX.
Sophia is a PhD student using next generation sequencing to investigate a susceptibility to biliary atresia in a North Island iwi. Biliary atresia is a congenital liver disease responsible for more than half of all pediatric liver transplants worldwide. Sophia recently won the Otago Medical School Research Society's Science Writing award for her work "Understanding A Familial Liver Disease in New Zealand Children". She was a finalist in the University of Otago Three Minute Thesis Competition in 2013, and joint winner of the Best Speaker Prize at the Genetics Otago Annual Symposium in 2013.
After completing his honours degree in genetics at the University of Otago in 2010, Adam joined the Chromosome Structure and Development Group in the Department of Pathology, University of Otago, as an Assistant Research Fellow. There he worked on a raft of projects using the zebrafish model system. After a quick placement at Monash University in Melbourne, Adam returned to New Zealand to embark on a PhD with Professor Stephen Robertson. Here, Adam's PhD involves using next-generation sequencing and array technologies to analyse genomes and identify novel genetic variants in patients with a developmental brain disorder. Findings from these analyses will be extended into model systems to allow functional insight into how such variants contribute to disease.
I joined the Robertson group as a PhD student at the beginning of 2012. Prior to that, I graduated from the University of York, in 2010, with a BSc(Hons) in Genetics. I then worked in the Clincial Genetics research group at the University of Manchester for two years before deciding to move to New Zealand. My PhD at Otago focuses on studying the genetic basis of a rare bone disease called frontometaphyseal dyplasia (FMD). FMD is known to be caused by mutations in a gene called filamin A. Part of my project involves characterising why mutations in filamin A cause bone disorders, and what they can teach us about healthy bone development. The other part of my project involves using whole exome sequencing to find other mutations which cause disease in a number of patients with FMD of unknown causes.
Having completed a BBMedSci and a PGDipSci at Victoria University of Wellington, I decided to switch gears and focus in on Genetics and began my Masters with the Robertson group in 2015.
My project takes a close look at MET, a gene which is important in bone disease. Using Zebrafish as a model, I am searching for what might regulate the differential processing of this gene to cause disease.
Recent photos of the Clinical Genetics Group
2015: Left to right: Back row: Henry Finnigan (Exchange student), Christine Neyt (Postdoctoral Fellow), Stephen Robertson (Group leader), Sophia Cameron-Christie (PhD student), Karen Knapp (Research Assistant). Middle row: Adam O'Neill (PhD student), Phil Daniel (Research Fellow), Emma Wade (PhD student), Candy Tang (Summer student), Zandra Jenkins (Research Fellow). Front row: Tim Morgan (Laboratory Technician), Elizabeth Goodin (Masters student).
2014: Left to right: Back row: Stephen Robertson (Group leader), Adam O'Neill (PhD student), Sophia Cameron-Christie (PhD student). Middle row: Isabel Buchsbaum (Exchange student), Christine Neyt (Postdoctoral Fellow), Ali Macharg (Summer Student), Emma Wade (PhD student), Zandra Jenkins (Research Fellow), Tim Morgan (Laboratory Technician). Front row: Kieran Bunn (BmedSci Hons student), Phil Daniel (Research Fellow).