Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Funding announced today brings to $27.6m the total that University of Otago researchers have been awarded to lead projects in the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment’s 2012 Science Investment Round. Nine projects within the round are Otago-led, which is more than any other university in New Zealand.
Today’s announcement sees Otago researchers gaining nearly $14.4m in funding from the Government’s High Value Manufacturing and Services Research Fund to lead six projects developing innovative technologies with significant export potential.
Three Otago projects totalling $13.2m in the areas of nutrition, energy, and infrastructure were announced last month. Nationally, a total of $225m will be invested over the next six years to support 78 research projects.
The six new Otago projects focus on areas including developing new ‘smart’ gels for surgical and other medical uses, technologies for early diagnosis of diabetes and cancers, a novel additive to improve the quality of transplant kidneys and innovative labour-saving precision sensors for farming.
University of Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie says he is delighted by the Otago researchers’ outstanding success in the highly competitive funding round.
“To gain funding, proposals must go through a very robust assessment process to determine their scientific merit and potential benefits they may bring to the country. The innovative science and expertise underlying each of Otago’s successful bids will contribute to the growth of existing, new and emerging industries in New Zealand.”
“Otago’s well-known strengths in basic research across all disciplines is critical to our success in these applied research programmes. Success is also built upon the work that has been put in to developing relationships with the end users of our research, many of whom are direct partners in these programmes.”
Along with the three major projects funded earlier in the 2012 Science Investment Round, the Otago researchers’ impressive showing reflects the University’s strong focus on applying and extending its high quality research for the social, environmental and economic benefit of New Zealanders, Professor Blaikie says.
Otago’s High Value Manufacturing and Services Research Fund projects:
Targeted research category projects:
Department of Chemistry researchers have gained funding of $6.95 million over six years (subject to a favourable review after four years) to pursue ‘Smart gels for commercialisation’.
Associate Professor Stephen Moratti and Professor Lyall Hanton together with Professor Brian Robinson and surgical collaborators from Wellington and Adelaide will build on their earlier breakthrough research in developing a medical gel that improves outcomes in ENT surgery. They will now work to develop new-generation ‘tough’ gels for a variety of applications such as improved interaction with biological materials and effective response to external stimuli in a manner similar to living organisms.
Among the gels’ uses will be controlling bleeding and preventing adhesions forming in neurosurgery, abdominal surgery and gynaecological procedures, and acting as sealants and glues for trauma and high pressure wound healing, or as the core of novel orthopaedic supports.
In 'Sensors for Agritech Using Sequential Inference' a team led by Dr Tim Molteno of the Department of Physics is carrying out research into innovative labour-saving sensors for agriculture. They will receive $3.98 million over five years (subject to a favourable review after three years).
The project will draw on cutting-edge expertise in satellite navigation systems, computational modelling and statistical inference to produce prototype sensors that will improve farmers' ability to easily and accurately monitor condition and behaviour of livestock in real-time. The team is also working closely with agritech, GPS tracking, and farm services companies to ensure the research is extended into on-farm practice. The data from these sensors could enable farmers to make more informed and timely management decisions around issues such as feeding and animal health.
Technology developments will be used for two kinds of sensor. The first uses computer models of animal locomotion to automatically infer the condition of livestock and quantify the uncertainty in these measurements. The second sensor type combines innovative satellite tracking technology— originally developed for wildlife tracking — with new measurement techniques to monitor pasture use in livestock.
Smart ideas category projects:
Associate Professor Parry Guilford of the Department of Biochemistry will lead a $910,000 project initially for two years to develop ‘Sequence-based Diagnostics from Single Cells’ for cancer using latest genomic sequencing techniques. This approach aims to diagnose cancer more accurately at an earlier stage through detecting and sequencing individual cancer cells from samples of body fluids that have come into contact with certain tumours.
The researchers hope that sequence data from the cancer cells will also enable the precise anatomical localisation of tumours and provide information on its likely clinical characteristics, such as drug resistance or sensitivity. In this proof of principle study, the team will apply the technology to developing a minimally invasive diagnostic test for endometrial cancer.
Dr Igor Meglinski and Dr Jevon Longdell of the Department of Physics will lead a project titled: ‘Biomedical imaging and cancer detection using light and ultrasound’. The work will receive initial funding of $828,000 over two years.
The team aims to develop and demonstrate a new non-invasive method for 3-D biomedical imaging, with the initial application of it being cancerous tissue. A medical device will combine two existing ultrasound and light techniques (Multispectral Optoacoustic Tomography (MOT) and Ultrasound Modulated Optical Tomography (UMOT)) to provide clear, accurate images of tissue, allowing it to be analysed for cancer cells at a much earlier stage than current technology allows.
University of Otago Christchurch researchers have gained initial funding of $866,718 over two years for their project ‘A novel insulin production diagnostic’. The project, led by Dr Chris Pemberton, involves translating his discovery of protein fragments known as signal peptides into a diagnostic test which could change the way diabetes is managed.
The researchers’ aim is to develop a simple test of signal peptides of insulin that reflect threats to cells that make insulin. This test will detect abnormalities, before diabetes or the need for insulin become evident in both the type 1 and 2 forms of the disease. Otago Innovation, the University of Otago’s Commercialisation company is providing the management support for developing this scientific discovery into diagnostic tests that meet clinical needs and industry standards.
Dr Ivan Sammut of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Associate Professor David Larsen of the Department of Chemistry are leading an $827,368 project titled ‘New Adjuncts for Transplant Solutions’. Initially funded for two years, the research involves reducing damage to kidneys from deceased donors that results from the organ storage and transplant procedure.
The researchers have a developed an additive for use with existing specialised cold organ flush solutions that have been applied to improve kidney transplant survival. They will test the additive for improvement in kidney function in a model of deceased donor organ transplantation. The study will use a combination of synthetic chemists, pharmacologists and toxicologists to refine the researchers’ existing pharmacological agent to meet this purpose. If successful this programme will deliver improved outcomes for transplant patients and allow greater use of organs traditionally considered marginal.
For more information, contact:
Professor Richard Blaikie
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise)
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 8513
Smart gels for commercialisation
$1,158,345 pa (GST excl.) for six years (subject to a favourable review after four years)
Professor Lyall Hanton & Associate Professor Stephen Moratti
Tel 64 3 479 7829
Using innovative chemistry combined with extensive clinical testing, the team seeks to develop new materials, called gels, which will control post-operative bleeding and adhesion formation, as well as forming the core of novel orthopaedic supports. NZ will accrue significant economic benefits through licensing revenue generated from gels, revenue through the local manufacturing of the gels, export earnings, and improved patient outcomes (which will also provide social and wellbeing benefits).
The team aims to develop tough polymer gels. These are gels that can be designed and constructed to interact with biological materials and react to external stimuli in a manner reminiscent of living organisms (i.e., they are ‘smart’). This work will build on the internationally recognised multidisciplinary research capability created at Otago. The team’s first-generation gel provided amazing bleeding and anti-adhesion control and has already been licensed to a global medical device company for ENT surgery.
The team will work towards delivering:
- a fundamental and systematic understanding of polymer gel structures,
- new tough gels for clinicians to use to control bleeding and prevent adhesions forming in neurosurgery, abdominal surgery and gynaecological procedures,
- biological sealants and glues for trauma and high pressure wound healing,
- novel linear responsive polymer gels for microfluidics, especially for orthopaedic support, and
- a NZ capability in polymer gel chemistry necessary for the development of a soft material industry in NZ.
Sensors for Agritech Using Sequential Inference
$795,613 pa (GST excl.) for five years (subject to a favourable review after three years)
Dr Tim Molteno
Tel 64 3 479 7752
Sensors for Agritech using Sequential Inference (SASI) will embed sophisticated mathematical algorithms into existing and inexpensive hardware systems, to develop innovative agritech sensors that will deliver substantial labour-saving to the primary industries.
Traditional approaches rely on developing or purchasing (often expensive) ‘smart’ hardware. SASI focuses instead on embedding sophisticated algorithms into existing/inexpensive hardware systems. It draws on cutting-edge research expertise in Bayesian inference, a fundamental mathematical and statistical approach to the quantification of uncertainty. Bayesian inference algorithms use prior knowledge of a signal's structure to produce optimal measurements.
It is hoped that these novel sensors, with their new functionalities and substantially-improved performance, will offer:
- Higher margins and new export opportunities to NZ-based agritech manufacturers.
- Increased primary industry productivity, through higher uptake of these sensors on-farm due to their pricing accessibility and system-enhancing performance.
Sequence-based Diagnostics from Single Cells
$455,279 pa (GST excl.) for two years with the option to apply for a further two years' funding
Associate Professor Parry Guilford
Tel 64 3 479 5803
With rapidly progressing genomic sequencing technology it is now possible and cost effective to obtain extensive genomic data from individual cells. This opens the door to the opportunity to diagnose cancer more accurately and at an earlier stage using low cost, minimally invasive techniques. Specifically, the team proposes to use the latest genomic sequencing techniques to enable the detection of cancer by screening fluids that have been in contact with certain tumours for the presence of rare cancer cells. These fluids include blood, urine, saliva and washes from the female reproductive tract, lungs and peritoneal cavity. It is hoped that sequence data from the individual cancer cells will also enable the precise anatomical localisation of tumours and provide information on its likely clinical characteristics, such as drug resistance or sensitivity. In this proof of principle study, the team will apply the technology to the development of a diagnostic test for endometrial cancer.
Sequence-based Diagnostics from Single Cells harnesses expertise from across the University of Otago and connects this with leading enterprises in order to grow and diversify New Zealand’s high value manufacturing and services sector. In doing so, it will accelerate the translation of fundamental knowledge and expertise developed through decades of biomedical and clinical investment into commercial applications. As part-&-parcel of these developments, the platform will also develop new approaches, methodologies and assays that are applicable in a wider array of science sectors — from public health and forensics through to ag-biotech and environmental management. It will also provide a training ground for the next generation of postgraduates who understand both the scientific and commercial imperatives of the wider research agenda.
Biomedical imaging and cancer detection using light and ultrasound
$414,161 pa (GST excl.) for two years with the option to apply for a further two years of funding
Dr Igor Meglinski
Tel 64 3 479 7754
The team aims to develop and demonstrate a new non-invasive method for bio-medical imaging, with the initial application of it being cancerous tissue. A medical device will combine two existing ultrasound and light techniques (Multispectral Optoacoustic Tomography (MOT) and Ultrasound Modulated Optical Tomography (UMOT)) to provide clear, accurate images of tissue, allowing it to be analysed for cancer cells at a much earlier stage than current technology allows. MOT uses ultrasound to map an object (e.g., tumour) as a 3D image. UMOT provides complementary information on the structural properties of tissues (i.e., is it benign or malignant tissue).
The team have very recently demonstrated a new technique for the detection of ultrasonically modulated photons. The performance demonstrated with their new technique means that they should be able to make quality UMOT images of in-vivo tissue for the first time. This, coupled with MOT, will lead to a new dual imaging technique on biological tissue that will provide clinicians with much more information than currently available.
Direct benefits of the research will include improved health outcomes (very early stage cancer diagnosis enables early treatment crucial in improving cancer outcomes) and revenue from the licensing and manufacturing of a high value, high technology, medical device within NZ. Spillover benefits will be the addition of an exciting tool for medical research.
A novel insulin production diagnostic
$433,359 pa (GST excl.) for two years with the option to apply for a further two years of funding
Dr Chris Pemberton
Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch
Tel 64 3 364 0887
Christchurch scientists are translating their discovery of protein fragments known as signal peptides into a diagnostic test which could change the way diabetes is managed. Their aim is to develop a simple test of signal peptides of insulin that reflect threats to cells that make insulin. This test will detect abnormalities, before diabetes or the need for insulin become evident in both the type 1 and 2 forms of the disease. Only then can proactive treatment prior to onset of diabetes become possible. It may also be applied to the search for treatments that protect these cells from disease. The research is lead by Dr Christopher Pemberton at the University of Otago, Christchurch. In 2011, Dr Pemberton received the Health Research Council Liley Medal for the world first discovery of the presence of signal peptides in human blood. Otago Innovation, the University of Otago's Commercialisation company is providing the management support for developing this scientific discovery into diagnostic tests that meet clinical needs and industry standards. Otago Innovation believes that New Zealand has the unique advantage of being in the forefront of potentially a new class of diagnostics and aims to develop a high value biotechnology industry in New Zealand.
New Adjuncts for Transplant Solutions
$413,684.13 pa (GST excl.) for two years with the option to apply for a further two years of funding
Dr Ivan Sammut
Pharmacology and Toxicology
Tel 64 3 479 5298
Approximately 500 patients a year in New Zealand benefit from the life transforming gift of a kidney transplant, yet many more remain on the waiting list. This list continues to rise exponentially each year as more and more patients are placed on waiting lists, outstripping the numbers of available suitable donor organs. This is of particular concern to New Zealand as we have an extremely high incidence of diabetes which will inevitably translate into an increased number of kidney disease patients undergoing time consuming, expensive replacement dialysis in place of kidney transplantation. There is considerable potential to improve the pool of available organs by making greater use of kidneys from deceased donors. While a number of techniques, including specialised cold organ flush solutions have been applied to improve kidney transplant survival, these organs, particularly those from deceased donors, are still subject to damage as a consequence of the organ storage and transplant procedure. We have developed an additive for use with these solutions that we will test to show improvement in kidney function in a model of deceased donor organ transplantation. This ambitious, forward-looking study will use a combination of synthetic chemists, pharmacologists and toxicologists to refine our existing pharmacological agent to meet this purpose. If successful this programme will deliver improved outcomes for transplant patients and allow greater use of organs traditionally considered marginal. This will increase the number of suitable.
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