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Emerging researchers recognised by HRC

Monday, 6 May 2013 8:04am

emerging researchersOtago's Joseph Antoun (left) and Dr Suetonia Palmer are among 10 scientists nationwide to be awarded Emerging Researcher First Grants by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

Two University of Otago scientists have been awarded Emerging Researcher First Grants by the Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand.

Mr Joseph Antoun (Oral Sciences) and Dr Suetonia Palmer (Christchurch campus) are among the 10 recipients of these grants for 2013. The funding aims to support emerging researchers who are seeking to establish independent careers in health research.

Announcing this year’s recipients, HRC Chief Executive Dr Robin Olds said the grants give the next generation of talented researchers the chance to lead their own research.

“These young people are outstanding in their respective research fields, and with these grants they will be able to conduct research that will help improve the health and quality of life of all New Zealanders.”

Otago’s recipients:

Dr Suetonia Palmer (Senior Lecturer, Medicine, Christchurch campus)
Making better clinical decisions to prevent kidney disease
24 months, $138,789

More than 10 percent of adults will develop chronic kidney disease. The effectiveness of many treatments used to improve outcomes in kidney disease is tested against surrogate (indirect) markers of health (e.g., cholesterol levels or blood pressure).

Unexpectedly, subsequent systematic analysis has identified little evidence to show that treatment strategies based on these surrogate markers translate to improved health for patients. Serum creatinine and proteinuria levels are commonly-used markers of kidney function to guide treatment.

The research involves using systematic review methods to summarise the quality of evidence for using proteinuria and serum creatinine as markers of treatment effectiveness in clinical trials. It will be determined whether using these markers to guide clinical care improves patient health or, conversely, leads to treatment-related harm or excessive use of ineffective medication.

These summaries will help clinicians and patients make better shared decisions about which therapeutic strategies actually improve clinical outcomes in kidney disease.

Mr Joseph Antoun (DClinDent candidate, Oral Sciences, Faculty of Dentistry)
The genetics of dentofacial growth anomalies
36 months, $149,462

The objective of this research is to investigate the relationship between selected candidate genes and specific forms of the face (e.g. underdeveloped lower jaws) that often lead to functional and aesthetic problems requiring orthodontic/surgical treatment.

The research will recruit individuals with clinically important facial anomalies (i.e. typical orthodontic patients), as well as control participants. DNA samples will be used to analyse and compare genetic differences in candidate genes between the two groups.

The possible effects of an interaction between genetic and environmental factors, such as oral habits (e.g. thumb-sucking), will also be investigated. This project will establish a genetic database that can be followed up longitudinally and may substantially improve our understanding of the biological basis of facial growth.