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Otago’s collaboration with Myanmar university moves into TB research

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Friday, 21 March 2014 12:07pm

myanmar uni collaborationDr Thanda Tun and Professor John Crump (foreground) and (L) Dr Htin Lin Aung, Professor Helen Nicholson and (R) Professor Greg Cook and Anna Sui Hluan (Anna Thio).

An international partnership forged by the University of Otago and University of Medicine (1) in Myanmar (also known as Burma) in late 2012 is moving ahead in several directions, including research into the genetics of tuberculosis drug resistance.

The two institutions signed a first-of-its-kind agreement between a New Zealand and a Myanmar university to collaborate on research, training, and capacity building in areas initially including infectious disease and medical microbiology.

This month, Dr Thanda Tun, a PhD student from University of Medicine (1) arrived in Dunedin to work with Professor Greg Cook and Dr Htin Lin Aung studying multiple-drug resistant and extensively drug resistant tuberculosis from Myanmar and elsewhere.

“Tuberculosis is one of the world’s most pressing infectious diseases problems, causing 1.2 million deaths worldwide in 2010,” says Dr Thanda Tun. “It is of great concern that the ability of national tuberculosis control programmes in countries like Myanmar to treat and control the disease is threatened by the emergence of resistance to first-line and second-line drugs.”

Dr Thanda Tun, Professor Cook, and Dr Htin Lin Aung, in partnership with Professor John Crump and Professor Philip Hill at the University’s Centre for International Health, will be studying the genes associated with drug resistance in the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. Their work may lead to improvements in diagnostic tests for drug-resistant tuberculosis and a better understanding of how drug-resistant organisms spread in populations.

"The recent establishment of a biosafety level 3 laboratory at our Department of Microbiology and Immunology allows us to work safety with organisms such those causing tuberculosis,” says Professor Cook. “By linking with capability for full-genome sequencing, we can do work that was not possible a few years ago.”

“The collaboration with the University of Medicine (1), set up through the initial contact of Anna Sui Hluan (Anna Thio) a University of Otago theology PhD student from Myanmar, has got off to a good start,” says Professor Crump, McKinlay Professor of Global Health.

“Along with Dr. Thanda Tun’s work on tuberculosis, University of Otago Masters of Public Health student, Ms Namrata Prasad has been conducting some of her thesis research in Myanmar looking at causes of bloodstream infections. Later this year, an early-career academic staff member at University of Medicine (1) will start her PhD at the University of Otago studying causes of fever in the Yangon.”

“We are delighted to see the synergy between several recent University initiatives bearing fruit,” says University of Otago Pro-Vice-Chancellor, International, Professor Helen Nicholson.

“The University is committed to being a good global citizen. By linking with international partners, we can make new discoveries, train future scientific leaders, and do research in New Zealand that would otherwise not be possible.”

The collaboration between the University of Medicine (1) and the University of Otago has an initial focus on research, training, and capacity building on infectious diseases and medical microbiology. However, it is anticipated that the relationship will expand over time to engage with a range of disciplines across the institutions both within and beyond the health sciences.

About Myanmar: United Nations Myanmar country profile

For more information, contact:

Professor John Crump, Co-Director
Centre for International Health
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 9460 or 64 3 470 3584
Email john.crump@otago.ac.nz

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