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Pulse 49: March / April 2015

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

PVC's welcome

Peter Crampton, PVC Health Sciences
Professor Peter Crampton.

Kia ora koutou kātoa,

Welcome to the second edition of Pulse for 2015.

This edition highlights a number of recent staff successes in funding applications and at awards ceremonies.

Congratulations to Associate Professor Christine Jasoni and Dr Ros Kemp, recipients of 2015 Teaching Excellence Awards; and to Professor Antony Braithwaite, recipient of the Dunedin School of Medicine Dean's Medal for Research Excellence.

Congratulations also to Professor Leigh Hale, who has accepted the position of Dean of the School of Physiotherapy, effective July. Professor Hale is very well-placed to lead the School in its continuing pursuit of excellence in learning and teaching, in research, and in clinical practice.

I would also like to thank the outgoing Dean, Professor David Baxter, for his decade of exemplary leadership at the School.

The first graduation ceremonies of the year took place on Saturday. The 1pm ceremony saw degrees conferred on graduates from multiple Health Sciences programmes. Many thanks to staff who support our graduating students with attendance at ceremonies and celebrations—your attendance at these special occasions is highly valued by students, their families, and by the University.

Professor Peter Crampton
Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Division of Health Sciences, pvc.healthsciences@otago.ac.nz

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General news

Recent appointments

Professor Leigh Hale
Professor Leigh Hale.

Congratulations to Professor Leigh Hale, who has been appointed Dean of the School of Physiotherapy, commencing on 13 July this year.

Professor Hale will present her Inaugural Professorial Lecture—Physiotherapy: Enabling healthy and engaging lives through movement and support—on Tuesday, 19 May 2015 at 5.30pm, in Archway 1. Staff, students, and members of the public are warmly invited to attend.

Congratuations also to Dr Andrew Tawse-Smith (Faculty of Dentistry), who has been appointed as Associate Dean (International) for the Division of Health Sciences.

Dr Tawse-Smith is also the Faculty's Student Affairs Officer.

For Women in Science Awards

The L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO invite you to put forward the names of extraordinary female scientists for the 2016 L’Oréal–UNESCO For Women in Science Awards. The 2016 Awards will designate five outstanding researchers in the life sciences.

The Awards will be presented in March 2016 in Paris to the five women selected by an international jury for their outstanding contribution to scientific advancement. Each of the Award Laureates will receive €100,000.

All nomination files must be submitted by midnight on 16 June 2015. Details at fwis.fr.

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Departmental news

Bioethics Centre

Perinatal Ethics Symposium

This 2 July symposium aims to bring together a broad group of people including bioethicists, other academics (eg social scientists and philosophers), and healthcare professionals, to discuss and debate some of the key ethical issues that emerge from the pre-implantation embryo stage through to the neonatal period.

Issues to be discussed will include:

  • The implications of using expanded genetic testing in the perinatal period
  • Decision-making around viability (approx 23–24 weeks)
  • Neonatal palliative care and perspectives of families

Details at otago.ac.nz/bioethics


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Dunedin School of Medicine

Health Research Excellence Awards

Professor Antony Braithwaite
Professor Antony Braithwaite.

Celebrating the ongoing and unique research partnership between the Dunedin School of Medicine and the Southern DHB, the annual Health Research Excellence Awards were held on 20 April. Dean of Dunedin School of Medicine, Professor Barry Taylor; Southern DHB CEO Carole Heatly; and the Health Research South Board, would like to congratulate the following award winners:

  • Professor Antony Braithwaite (Department of Pathology)
    Dean's Medal for Research Excellence
  • Associate Professor Greg Jones (Department of Surgical Sciences)
    Research Development Investment
  • Dr David Markie (Department of Pathology)
    Research Development Investment
Prizes and Scholarships
  • Alison Ma (Department of Preventive and Social Medicine)
    Gil Barbezat Summer Studentship Prize
  • Ruth Harvie (Department of Medicine)
    The Dunbar Scholarship
  • Michael Maze (Department of Preventive and Social Medicine)
    The Frances Cotter Scholarship
  • Dr Maria Reyneke (Department of General Practice and Rural Health)
    Clinical Research Scholarship
  • Mostafa Amer (Department of Medicine)
    Super Summer Studentship Award
  • Angela Chou (Department of Psychological Medicine)
    Super Summer Studentship Award
Health Research Awards
  • Marie-Michelle Sullivan (Department of Medicine)
    Research Support Person Award
  • Associate Professor Patricia Priest (Department of Preventive and Social Medicine)
    Research Publication Award
  • Dr Lianne Parkin (Department of Preventive and Social Medicine)
    Research Publication Award
  • Professor Ian Morison (Department of Pathology)
    Research Publication Award
  • Kate Thomas (Department of Surgical Sciences)
    Best Published Paper by a Master's or PhD Student Award
  • Dr Euan Rodger (Department of Pathology)
    Best Health Research Poster Award
  • Imogen Roth (Department of Pathology)
    Best Health Research Poster Award
  • Dr Cao Jin (Department of Surgical Sciences)
    Best Health Research Poster Awards
Departmental Awards
  • Jessica Young
    The Jan Breward Award for Research Excellence in General Practice
  • Mei-Ling Blank
    Preventive and Social Medicine Early Career Research Award
  • Emeritus Professor Don Wilson
    Women's and Children's Health Excellence in Research Support (Women's Health)
  • Carmen Lobb
    Women’s and Children’s Health Excellence in Research Support (Children's Health)

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Otago School of Medical Sciences

OSMS Postgraduate Colloquium a success!

The Otago School of Medical Sciences' annual Postgraduate Colloquium, held in April, was a great success—with two busy days of inspiring presentations and discussions.

The University of Auckland's Professor Margaret Brimble opened the event with a thought-provoking keynote lecture about to her work as a medicinal chemist. At the poster evening, Safina Gadeock (Department of Physiology) earned first place with her poster Enteroids – a model of the colonic epithelium in IBD. Second place went to Rachel Heron, with third place going to Hannah Hampton, both from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Postgraduate students from the School's five departments gave brief oral presentations on their research. Colin Davies (Department of Microbiology and Immunology) was awarded the first place for his talk Murine Norovirus Manipulation of the host Cell Cycle. Second place went to Megan Elder (Department of Anatomy), and third place to Braeden Donaldson (Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Department of Pathology).

Greg Cook, Peter Noakes, Conrad Sernia, Kelvin Yin, Lucy Heap, Karen Moritz, Yana Vukovic (UQ visitors), Vernon Ward
Greg Cook, Peter Noakes, Conrad Sernia, Kelvin Yin, Lucy Heap, Karen Moritz, Yana Vukovic (UQ visitors), Vernon Ward.

Otago goes to Samoa

In February of this year Associate Professor Hallie Buckley and Associate Professor Fiona McDonald travelled to Apia, Samoa to assist the Faculty of Medicine of the National University of Samoa with the launching of their new preclinical medical courses in Anatomy and Physiology. This is an initiative run through Otago's Division of Health Sciences to facilitate the development of a new medical programme at the NUS.

Associate Professors Buckley and McDonald each delivered the first week of teaching and worked with Samoan clinical teachers with developing the rest of the course for the semester. This initiative is planned to run for another two years.

Government keeps promise for first Medical Students under NUS (National University of Samoa)
NUS and Otago University succeed in MOU (National University of Samoa)

First-year medical students at the National University of Samoa
First-year medical students at the National University of Samoa, with Tuigamala Dr Stanley Dean and Associate Professors Hallie Buckley and Fiona McDonald.

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Department of Anatomy

Harlene Hayne and Christine Jasoni
Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne and Associate Professor Christine Jasoni.

Congratulations to our researchers who have all received funding from the Lottery Health Research Grants:

  • Dr Joanna WilliamsThe prognostic value of a novel Alzheimer’s disease related composite biomarker signature
  • Dr Elspeth GoldSearch for a signature indicative of aggressive prostrate cancer in tissue biopsies
  • Associate Professor Dorothy Oorschot and Dr Beulah LeitchFunding for the purchase of a Leica EM PACT2 high-pressure freezer system for the cryo-TEM in the OCEM

PhD student Lisa Zondag has been awarded funding from the Brenda Shore Award for Women, to support her doctoral research.

Details on the Department of Anatomy website

Associate Professor Christine Jasoni was awarded a University of Otago Excellence in Teaching Award. The award recognises the enthusiasm and innovation Christine shows in her teaching, and her outstanding ability to relate to her students. The Department warmly congratulates Christine for this distinguished award and honour.

The Department of Anatomy raised $4,345 for the Cancer Society's Dunedin Relay for Life event held in March. All funds raised will contribute towards cancer research, support and education in the Otago region. A great effort by all involved.

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Department of Biochemistry

Associate Professor Richard Macknight, along with ARF Robyn Lee and PhD student Jiffin Khosa were on Our Changing World on 30 April talking about their work on onion bulbing.

Our Changing World (Radio NZ)

Dr Wayne Patrick and PhD student Matilda Newton were in the New Zealand Herald as a follow-on from a publication in the Royal Society's Interface journal. The Herald, in its wisdom, used a photo of Wayne and Monica instead of one with Wayne and Matilda.

NZ scientist: We've got much to learn about the fabric of life (NZ Herald)

Professor Warren Tate was in The Star, in an article about his research into Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Uni of Otago work continues on diagnosis and treatment (The Star)

Dr Stephen Sowerby has just been announced as one of the finalists in the KiwiNet Awards, which are designed to celebrate commercialisation success within New Zealand's universities and Crown Research Institutes.

The Department has also had recent success with Lotteries Health Research grants. Dr Augustine Chen was awarded $50,000 for Shared equipment for automated high throughput cell imaging, and Professor Kurt Krause $78,054 for the Automated protein crystallography incubation and imaging facility.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Dr Raymond Staals publishes CRISPR-Cas breakthrough

Dr Raymond Staals
Dr Raymond Staals.

Dr Raymond Staals, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Fineran Lab, is a part of an international research team that has just published in the high-profile journal Science.

In the paper, the authors show how CRISPR-Cas, a surveillance complex in the bacterial immune system, is able to target specific sites on RNA molecules to destroy invading viruses and other foreign genetic elements. The finding could lead to the development of tailor-made RNA-editing tools.

Media release on the University of Otago website

Professor Frank Griffin kicks off new science lecture series

On 31 March the Science Community of Otago launched its new monthly lecture series Let's Talk Science. The informal lectures are aimed at any students with an interest in science, and feature popular University of Otago science lecturers. Professor Frank Griffin was invited as one of the speakers for the first event, and spoke of his background, career highlights, and provided some inspiration and advice to those considering a career as a scientist. 

Dr Ros Kemp receives 2015 Teaching Excellence Award

Dr Ros Kemp has been recognised as one of the University's outstanding lecturers in the 2015 Teaching Excellence Awards. Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne said "To win this award, each has demonstrated that they are an inspiration to both their fellow colleagues, and their students. The standard they consistently set themselves is always very high indeed and I wholeheartedly endorse their selection."

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Student achievements

Masters' students Andrea Nield-Patterson (Supervisor Dr Greg Giles), Patrick Gwavava (Supervisor Professor Rhonda Rosengren), Hannah Palmer (Supervisor Professor Rhonda Rosengren) and Sean Abel (Supervisor Dr Sarah Baird) submitted their theses in April.

PhD student Neha Parayath (Supervisor Dr Khaled Greish) has received funding from Genesis Oncology Trust and the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust to attend the Controlled Release Society (CRS) annual meeting to be held in Edinburgh.

PhD student Lucy Stiles (Supervisor Professor Paul Smith) has been awarded the 2015 Kainic Medical Communications Travel Scholarship to attend Neuroscience 2015 (SFN) to be held in Chicago.

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Department of Physiology

PhD students publish in the prestigious journal

Pauline Campos (supervisors Professors Allan Herbison and Brian Hyland) and Aleisha Moore (supervisors Dr Rebecca Campbell and Professor Allan Herbison), who submitted their PhD theses in February this year, have both published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS):

  • Campos, P., & Herbison, A.E. (2014). Optogenetic activation of GnRH neurons reveals minimal requirements for pulsatile luteinizing hormone secretion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 111(51): 18387–18392.
  • Moore, A.M., Prescott, M., Marshall, C.J., Yip, S.H., & Campbell, R.E. (2015). Enhancement of a robust arcuate GABAergic input to gonadotropin-releasing hormone neurons in a model of polycystic ovarian syndrome. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 112(2): 596–601.

HUBS lab opening

The HUBS lab was formally opened by Dean of the Otago School of Medical Sciences, Professor Vernon Ward, on 13 April. We have received a lot of positive feedback from both students and staff about the new environment and how it enhances teaching and learning compared to the old space. It has also resulted in a substantial improvement in the working environment of the HUBS office and technical staff.

Lab makeover enhances learning (Otago Bulletin)

HUBS Lab
The new HUBS lab.

Physiology staff research in the ODT

Associate Professor Colin Brown was part of an international collaboration of research undertaken in McGill University, Montreal, on how salt affects a part of the brain that controls blood pressure. The findings have been published in the journal Neuron, and it is hoped the research could possibly be used to develop drugs for certain kinds of hypertension:

  • Choe, K.Y., Han, S.Y., Gaub, P., Shell, B., Voisin, D.L., Knapp, B.A., Barker, P.A., Brown, C.H., Cunningham, J.T., & Bourque, C.W. (2015). High salt intake increases blood pressure via BDNF-mediated downregulation of KCC2 and impaired baroreflex inhibition of vasopressin neurons. Neuron, 85: in press.

Salt study makes breakthrough (ODT)

Associate Professor Ruth Empson is also part of an international collaboration that has developed an exciting and expansive new set of tools to probe cell types in the brain. The collaboration has been led by Allen Institute for Brain Science scientists and includes researchers from all over the world. This research has also been published in the journal Neuron:

  • Madisen, L., Garner, A.R., Shimaoka, D., Chuong, A.S., Klapoetke, N.C., Li, L., van der Bourg, A., Niino, Y., Egolf, L., Monetti, C., Gu, H., Mills, M., Cheng, A., Tasic, B., Nguyen, T.N., Sunkin, S.M., Benucci, A., Nagy, A., Miyawaki, A., Helmchen, F., Empson, R.M., Knöpfel, T., Boyden, E.S., Reid, R.C., Carandini, M., & Zeng, H. (2015). Transgenic mice for intersectional targeting of neural sensors and effectors with high specificity and performance. Neuron, in press.

Tools help unlock brain mysteries (ODT)

Congratulations also to Ashley Gillon (MSc student), who has won a Henry Kelsey Research Scholarship to support PhD costs; and Dr Pete Jones, who has been awarded a Lottery Health Research equipment grant.


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School of Pharmacy

Student achievements

Congratulations to Silke Neumann, Jasper Chiu, and Farrukh Zeeshan, who have completed the PhD programme; and Hesham Al-Sallami and Piyanan Assawasuwannakit who have submitted their PhD theses this year.

Fat-Free Mass Calculator

Fat-Free Mass Calculator
The Fat-Free Mass Calculator.

Lecturer in Clinical Pharmacy, Hesham Al-Sallami, has also recently launched a web-based app for clinicians to easily calculate fat-free body mass as a more accurate measure of body size for dose calculations of medicines.

This has been communicated to several hospitals around the country with the aim of achieving optimal dosing of medicines. It is also available as a nomogram.

Fat-Free Mass Calculator (Otago Pharmacometrics Group)

Changing profile for Professor Ian Tucker

Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Ian Tucker is changing his profile in the School of Pharmacy. From April he will no longer be involved in teaching or administration with a view to retiring in 2017.

He will be focusing on his successful translational research into mastitis in the dairy industry as well as drug delivery to the brain. Professor Tucker will also continue with his other role as Associate Dean (Research Commercialisation) in the Division of Health Sciences.

Professor Tucker was first appointed as a Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences in 1991 and then went on to be the Dean of the School of Pharmacy for 11 years from 1999.


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School of Physiotherapy

Community-based engagement: Dunedin Community Exercise Programme

Participants in the DCEP
DCEP participants.

The Dunedin Community Exercise Programme (DCEP) is the current evolution of the Community Exercise Class and is offered in conjunction with WellSouth Primary Health Network. The class provides students with an opportunity to gain experience in providing exercise prescription for people with long-term health conditions. Physiotherapy students are also able to work with other health professional students in an interprofessional environment.

The course is informed by research evidence relating to long-term health conditions and exercise prescription. As this course is in itself a novel approach to community exercise, a number of research projects exploring and evaluating the course have been undertaken.

Dunedin Community Exercise Programme (School of Physiotherapy)

Master of Physiotherapy

Chris Higgs completed a Master of Physiotherapy in 2014. Chris' thesis was entitled Outcomes of a community-based rehabilitation programme for people with Diabetes/Prediabetes. The study concluded that a community rehabilitation programme for people with diabetes / prediabetes was safe, culturally accepted, and feasible; and provided health benefits to participants.

These benefits were observed both quantitatively in measures of health-related physical fitness, and qualitatively in reports of increased social support and confidence in their ability to independently manage their diabetes / prediabetes.

For further information on the study contact: chris.higgs@otago.ac.nz


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University of Otago, Christchurch

UOC MIHI to Te Matatini Whānau

The Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival 2015 was an opportunity too good to be true for the lecturers of the Māori Indigenous Health Institute, University of Otago, Christchurch (UOC) to provide students and other UOC staff members with the chance to work with the Māori community on such a large scale. The last time Te Matatini was in Otautahi was in 1986 at the now-demolished QEII Stadium so the team felt that it was an excellent opportunity to support the Kaupapa of Te Matatini and also to extend the Manakitanga of Ngai Tahu by offering free cardiovascular screens.

MIHI has over the years successfully run Cardiovascular and Pediatric community screening days as a part of its Hauora Māori Curriculum. These health days have provided fifth-year medical students the opportunity to consolidate their Hauora Māori learning with the Māori community and whānau.

The Heart Checks (cardiovascular screens) at Te Matatini was an extra opportunity to work with whanau that consisted of cholesterol checks, blood pressure, BMI, weight, and a brief cardiac history of not only the participant, but also enquiring about any whānau history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes. All participants were fully informed regarding the kaupapa of the screen, and checks were supported by administrative staff that ensured that participants' GPs would be notified of the results.

Over 400 people were screened over three days at Te Matatini, with 12 fifth- and sixth-year medical students, six Māori GPs, one research professor, one associate professor, two senior lecturers, and five administrative staff and Māori nurses all volunteering their time to support the kaupapa.

The response was overwhelming, with people lining up for clinics from 7.30am–5pm each day. Many people were advised about healthy lifestyles, exercise, and nutrition; with a number who were advised to make appointments with their GP, a number referred to the Diabetes Service and Heart Foundation for further information, and one person referred to the Emergency Department for further cardiac investigations.

UOC Student President Robyn Hawking providing some information about cholesterol, with fifth-year student Anika Tiplady in the background
UOC Student President Robyn Hawking providing some information about cholesterol, with fifth-year student Anika Tiplady in the background

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