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Otago rewards up-and-coming researchers

Medical equipment

Tuesday, 6 September 2011 11:10am

Six highly promising academic staff members have been recognised through the University of Otago’s latest Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research.

The University’s 2011 recipients are Dr James Crowley (Chemistry), Dr Peter Fineran (Microbiology and Immunology) Dr Dione Healey (Psychology), Dr Shinichi Nakagawa (Zoology), Dr Clare Strachan (Pharmacy) and Dr Shieak Tzeng (Surgery and Anaesthesia, Wellington).

Announcing the awards, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Helen Nicholson warmly congratulated the six, who were selected on the basis of outstanding research achievement at an early stage of their academic careers.

“It is very pleasing to be able to formally recognise the important contributions these up-and-coming researchers are making to their departments, the University, the nation and the international research community. Their talent and industry mark them out as likely future research leaders at Otago.”

The Early Career Award for Distinction in Research is accompanied by a grant of $5000 to be used by the recipient for research and scholarly development.

By receiving the award the recipients also become members of the University’s O-Zone Group of early to mid-career researchers. O-Zone undertakes activities to promote interdisciplinary thinking and collaborations and to present a positive, clear, innovative, and independent voice for research within the University, locally, regionally and nationally.

Dr James Crowley – Department of Chemistry

James Crowley photo

Dr James Crowley is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, where he carries out research in synthetic chemistry. After completing his undergraduate studies at Victoria University of Wellington, he obtained a PhD at the University of Chicago, and was then a Ramsey Memorial Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. He began his independent career at the University of Otago in March 2008 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2011. His major research interests are in catalysis, self-assembly, molecular recognition and the development of molecular machines.

Since beginning independent research at the University of Otago, Dr Crowley has carried out pioneering work in the development and exploitation of “click” chemistry. Using this “click” chemistry large complex nano-structures may be assembled which have unique catalytic and molecular recognition properties. Dr. Crowley and his group have shown that these “click” systems can be exploited to generate novel catalysts and nanoscale cages with the potential to act as drug delivery agents.

Dr Crowley’s research has been published in a range of high impact international journals. Additionally, he has been invited to present his research at a number of international conferences and chemistry departments around NZ and Australia.

Dr Peter Fineran – Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Peter Fineran photo

Dr Peter Fineran is a Senior Lecturer in Molecular Microbiology in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. After completing his undergraduate training in Biochemistry at the University of Canterbury (2001) he worked at the Australian National University. He conducted his PhD (2006) and postdoctoral research training at the University of Cambridge, UK.

In 2008 he established a research group at Otago focusing on bacterial gene regulation and the interactions between bacteria and their viruses (bacteriophages). His research utilises molecular genetics and biochemistry to investigate how bacteria control their gene expression and respond to infection by bacteriophages. For example, he was involved in the discovery of a new mechanism of ‘altruistic’ cell suicide that provides ‘innate immunity’ to bacterial populations from viruses at the expense of the individual.

His research has been widely published in high-impact journals, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, Nature Reviews Microbiology and Nature Structural and Molecular Biology. He has been invited to present his research in New Zealand and abroad. Dr Fineran collaborates both nationally and internationally and has been successful in acquiring major competitive research funds as a Principal Investigator, which includes two Marsden Fund grants.

Dr Dione Healey – Department of Psychology

Dione Healey photo

Dr Dione Healey is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology where she conducts research into childhood Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). After completing her studies at the University of Canterbury in 2006, she spent two years as a post-doctoral fellow in New York working on Distinguished Professor Jeffrey Halperin’s longitudinal study of children with ADHD.

Dr Healey took up a position as lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of Otago in 2008 and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2010. This year she was awarded the New Zealand Psychological Society’s Goddard Early Career Award for Achievement and Excellence in Research and Scholarship, and has received two University of Otago Research Grants.

Dr Healey’s current research focuses on early-intervention for hyperactive preschoolers. Her intervention involves teaching self-regulation skills to preschoolers through the use of prescribed games that parents and children play for half an hour a day. Current treatments for ADHD (i.e. medication and behaviour management training) externally regulate children’s behaviour and while effective during active treatment, the symptoms return when treatment desists. Dr Healey hopes that by teaching internal self-regulatory skills to children they will learn to manage their own symptoms, which will lead to better maintenance of treatment gains over time.

Dr Shinichi Nakagawa – Department of Zoology

Shinichi Nakagawa photo

Dr Shinichi Nakagawa has been a lecturer and is now senior lecturer at the Department of Zoology since 2008. He obtained his BSc(Hons) at University of Waikato in 2003 and then gained his PhD at University of Sheffield, UK in 2007.

His core research interest is the field of behavioural sciences and evolutionary biology, but his interests are diverse. His group (www.sparrow.otago.ac.nz) has five different research themes: 1) behavioural & evolutionary ecology, 2) evolutionary genetics & endocrinology, 3) behavioural neuroscience, 4) nutritional ecology & evolutionary gerontology and 5) statistical computational biology. His research has been funded by grants from University of Otago, Marsden and NRCGD (National Research Centre for Growth and Development). He is particularly interested in bringing and bridging different disciplines for new research topics.

Dr Nakagawa has published over 40 papers in peer-reviewed journals and his publications have been cited nearly 1000 times. He is on editorial boards on three international journals such as Evolutionary Ecology. He was named Otago University Students’ Association 2010 New Supervisor of the Year and in 2011 was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship for his sabbatical.

Dr Clare Strachan – School of Pharmacy

Clare Strachan photo

Dr Clare Strachan has been a lecturer and now senior lecturer at the University since 2009. She gained a BPharm from the University of Otago, and after qualifying as a pharmacist, she returned to Otago to complete a PhD in Pharmacy, which involved time at the University of Cambridge as a visiting researcher. She subsequently spent four years at the University of Helsinki, initially as a postdoctoral researcher and then as a group leader at the Centre for Drug Research.

Her research focuses on analysing medicine formulations (e.g tablets, capsules) during manufacturing, storage and after administration so that the release of the drug from these dosage forms is better controlled which, in turn, leads to a better therapeutic response and safety profile. Her analytical work combines the disciplines of physics, chemistry and pharmacy, and she collaborates with a number of research groups around the world.

She has published 56 articles in a wide range of scientific journals and her work is widely cited. She been an invited speaker at a number of conferences in North America, Europe and Asia, and currently supervises seven PhD candidates. Her previous PhD students have received international awards from bodies such as the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists and the International Association for Pharmaceutical Technology.

Dr Shieak Tzeng - Surgery & Anaesthesia, University of Otago, Wellington

Shieak Tzeng photo

Dr Shieak Tzeng is a Lecturer in Clinical Physiology in the Department of Surgery & Anaesthesia at the University of Otago, Wellington. In 2006, he graduated from the University with the degrees MB ChB and a PhD. In 2007 he was awarded a first-equal placing in the Advancing Human Health and Wellbeing category of the MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year Awards. Since then he has also gained a National Heart Foundation Research Fellowship, a Health Research Council Emerging Researchers First Grant and an AMP Scholarship to further his post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School’s Cardiovascular Research Laboratory. He currently holds a prestigious Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship and is the principal investigator of the Cardiovascular Systems Laboratory at UOW.

Dr Tzeng’s research interests involve understanding the haemodynamic changes underpinning disease processes such as hypertension, stroke, and syncope. He has pioneered work demonstrating intimate physiological links between blood pressure and cerebral blood flow control mechanisms that may be targets for stroke treatments. Dr Tzeng is also involved in undergraduate medical student teaching and is currently developing a vertical integration physiology program for clinical medical students at the Wellington campus.

For more information, contact

Professor Helen Nicholson
Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise)
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 8835
Email dvc.research@otago.ac.nz

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