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Research & PhD opportunities in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health

The Department of Paediatrics and Child Health is research active in a number of different aspects of child health and disease.

We have opportunities for postgraduate research that would suit students from a number of disciplines – particularly basic science, health sciences and psychology.

Professor Dawn Elder

Professor Elder has research interests in sleep and breathing in preterm and term infants as well as in the older paediatric age-range. She works with colleagues in the Biological Rhythms research group in the Department of Surgery and Anaesthesia looking at cardiorespiratory interactions in the paediatric age group. She also has research interests in cause of perinatal death and Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) and is a co-investigator on the national SUDI case-control study. Professor Elder is currently supervising one PhD student who is looking at the effect of vocal soothing on preterm infants during painful procedures. A master's student has recently completed a project looking at the best way to monitor preterm infants for respiratory events prior to neonatal discharge.

Potential PhD, Master's and BMedSc(Hons) projects would be available in the following areas:

  • Measurement of heart rate variability and other cardiorespiratory interactions in preterm and term infants
  • Exploration of cardioventilatory coupling in children with Prader Willi and Down syndrome
  • Heart variability: differences related to ethnicity and disadvantage in a NZ paediatric population

To enquire about research opportunities:
Email dawn.elder@otago.ac.nz

Associate Professor Esko Wiltshire

Assoc Prof Wiltshire’s primary areas of research involve investigation of the acute and chronic complications of diabetes, particularly their pathophysiology and early development, and also treatment. The aims of this research are to identify factors involved in the early pathogenesis of the vascular complications of diabetes, when interventions will have the greatest effect. Assoc Prof Wiltshire is currently supervising 2 PhD students

Potential PhD, Master's and BMedSc(Hons) projects would be available in the following areas:

  • Investigating endothelial progenitor cells in type 1 diabetes – their association with endothelial function and role in diabetes complications
  • Heart rate variability in type 1 diabetes – role in assessment of cardiac autonomic neuropathy, association with microvascular complications and interaction with hypoglycaemia… does it have a role in “diabetes death in bed” syndrome
  • Transition from adolescent to adult services… enhancing self-autonomy and factors that make transition successful in diabetes (and other chronic disease?)
  • Implementing the results of the DCCT (Diabetes Control and Complications Trial) in routine clinical practice - how can we best achieve this?

To enquire about research opportunities:
Email esko.wiltshire@otago.ac.nz

Associate Professor Lynette Sadleir

The Epilepsy Research Group was established in 2007 and has a strong commitment to improving the quality of life for children with epilepsy and their families. The group is led by Associate Professor Lynette Sadleir and receives funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand and Cure Kids. The group works closely with the Epilepsy Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia led by Laureate Professor Ingrid Scheffer and Laureate Professor Samuel Berkovic, and is also associated with other international epilepsy research consortiums including Epi4K and Epi25.

The Epilepsy Research Group’s main focus is the genetics of epilepsy. There are over 1200 New Zealanders affected by epilepsy participating in this project at the present time and more being recruited each year.

Potential PhD, Master's and BMedSc(Hons) projects would be available in the following areas:

Clinical epilepsy genetics
Suitable for medical graduates with an interest in becoming a clinician researcher in paediatrics, neurology, or genetics.

  • Clinical genetic family studies: defining new and refining emerging epilepsy syndromes
  • Epileptic encephalopathies; moving towards precision medicine – identifying genetic aetiology and potential therapeutic options
  • Defining the phenotype of newly identified genetic encephalopathies
  • Investigating the epidemiology and natural history of Febrile Seizures Plus

Encephalography
Suitable for a medical, nursing or science graduate with an interest in paediatrics, neurology, neuroscience or EEG.

  • Sedation for paediatric EEG – what medication sedates without eliminating epileptiform abnormalities?
  • EEG activation procedures – what is necessary?

Clinical Epilepsy
Suitable for a medical, nursing, public health or science graduate with an interest in epilepsy or public health

  • Understanding Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy Patients (SUDEP) in New Zealand – incidence and preventability
  • Epilepsy management in New Zealand: the impact of the introduction of paediatric epilepsy guidelines into New Zealand
  • Epilepsy: how can we come out of the shadows in the New Zealand Health system – measuring, resourcing and accountability

Epilepsy and Genetic Education
Suitable for a medical, nursing, public health, science or science communication graduate with an interest in epilepsy, genetics and/or education

  • Epilepsy undergraduate education: what do they need to know and how should it be taught?
  • Relaying complex information in an understandable way – improving genetic literacy
  • Research literacy: how can we improve the patient understanding of the quality of drug trial research (eg medicinal marijuana).

To enquire about research opportunities:
Email lynette.sadleir@otago.ac.nz

Dr Thorsten Stanley

Dr Stanley’s research has focused on the areas of allergy and infectious disease and he has increasingly been involved in collaborations with the Department of Medicine and in particular WARG (Wellington Asthma Research Group) and Public Health. Recent research has looked at the role of probiotics in preventing infant eczema and atopy, Vitamin D in bronchiolitis, dampness and fungal spores in childhood wheeze, gut permeability in eczema, the use of exhaled nitric oxide in assessing asthma control and effectiveness of allergen desensitisation.

Potential Master's and BMedSc(Hons) projects would be available in the following areas:

  • Probiotics
  • Infant eczema and atopy prevention
  • Childhood and infant wheeze
  • Food allergies
  • Desensitisation
  • Exhaled nitric oxide
  • Common infectious diseases
  • Infant neurology
  • The use of the amplitude integrated EEG

To enquire about research opportunities:
Email thorsten.stanley@otago.ac.nz

Dr Max Berry

In 2008 Dr Berry was awarded an HRC Fellowship for PhD studies; during the course of her PhD she examined the long-term effects of preterm birth, early nutrition and antenatal corticosteroid exposure on cardiometabolic outcomes in sheep. Dr Berry’s research interests include the impact of preterm birth on cardiac autonomic function, vascular function and the development of regional adiposity. In particular, Dr Berry has an interest in translational biomedical research, and the integration of basic sciences with advances in perinatal care. In 2013 Dr Berry was awarded first prize in the Richard Richard Stewart Memorial Prizes for Excellence in Research Presentation by Emerging New Investigators.

Potential Master's and BMedSc(Hons) projects would be available in the following areas:

  • Cerebral perfusion stability in extremely preterm infants
  • The late cardio-metabolic consequences of preterm birth
  • Preclinical models of examining the effects of preterm birth, gestational diabetes and easy postnatal environment on later cardio-metabolic health

To enquire about research opportunities:
Email max.berry@otago.ac.nz