This page includes all the research groups that feature in our Child Health Research at Otago website.
Better science together for a better start in life
Our children are our future, we want to give them the best possible start in life. Getting a good start includes being a healthy weight, learning successfully and being mentally well. That’s what all families, whānau and communities want for their tamariki. But obesity, learning and mental health are challenges for some children.
Our mission is to find better ways to predict, prevent and treat obesity, learning and mental health problems in children and teenagers.
University of Otago researchers contribute in the Science Leadership Team and in projects.
E Tipu e Rea—Grow and Branch Forth
ASPIRE2025 is a partnership between major New Zealand research groups carrying out research to help achieve the Government's goal of a tobacco-free Aotearoa by 2025. ASPIRE2025 brings together leading tobacco-free researchers and health service groups in New Zealand and strengthens existing collaborations. ASPIRE2025 has been a University of Otago Research Theme since November 2011.
Smoking in the car—time to stub it out is an opinion piece about reducing children's exposure to secondhand smoke.
Bioethics is the study of ethical issues arising within health care and the life sciences.
Our Centre aims to examine the conventional and novel moral dilemmas arising from medical research, clinical settings, and advances brought about by life sciences and biotechnologies.
Reproductive ethics is one of the research themes we explore.
Scientists at the Brain Health Research Centre are undertaking cutting-edge internationally recognised research into the workings of the brain in health and disease, and are developing new treatments for neurological disorders.
Read more about our research affecting child health:
We aim to reduce the incidence and impact of cancer in New Zealand, and to reduce cancer-related inequalities.
We work in close coordination with the Cancer Society of New Zealand to prioritise the research we conduct, disseminate our findings, and advocate for world-leading cancer prevention, care and support.
Our partners include Massey University, Michigan State University, The University of Melbourne, and Victoria University of Wellington.
The Centre for International Health facilitates and promotes research to contribute to the understanding and improvement of health in under-resourced countries, and focuses on postgraduate training and strategic mentorship of leaders.
Researchers interests include:
- Anaemia and micronutrient deficiencies, child under-nutrition, and effectiveness of maternal and child health interventions
- Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection and disease, Streptococcus pneumoniae carriage, disease, and vaccination
- The syndrome of fever in resource-limited areas, Salmonella and other invasive bacterial infections, bacterial zoonoses, diagnostics and ethics in global health
The CNE comprises ten research groups focused upon understanding how the brain controls hormone levels and how hormones control brain function.
We have three themes of research that focus upon understanding the neural regulation of:
- Body weight and metabolism
Translational cancer research bridges the gap between laboratory-based science and treatment in the clinic. We now have sufficient knowledge in the fields of cancer biology, molecular biology, and immunology to make a significant impact on the treatment and management of cancer.
We're bringing about rapid improvements in cancer outcomes by addressing defined clinical problems. Our research is accelerating the development and testing of new drugs and diagnostic tools that directly assist clinicians and their patients.
Our work covers:
- Drug development
- Childhood cancers
- Diagnostic test design
- Personalised medicine
In the Department of Psychological Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine, there is a broad programme of research that focuses on the influence of childhood sexual abuse on adult outcomes.
Specifically, research is currently being conducted examining male’s experience of sexual abuse and the resulting sequelae, the effects of sexual abuse over time (i.e., in older age), and also a new research initiative with international collaborators examining post traumatic growth via group treatment with sexual abuse survivors. Both qualitative and quantitative methods are used to examine childhood sexual abuse issues.
The Christchurch Health and Development Study (CHDS) has been in existence for 40 years. During this time we have followed the health, education and life progress of a group of 1,265 children born in the Christchurch (New Zealand) urban region during mid-1977.
This cohort has now been studied from infancy into childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The data gathered over the course of the study now comprises some 50 million characters of information, with which the study has published over 440 scientific papers, reports, books and book chapters describing the 40-year life history of the CHDS cohort.
As of June 2017, we are interviewing the CHDS participants for their 40 year assessment.
The Clinical Genetics Group study single gene disorders in children, with a particular emphasis on disorders that affect the development of the skeleton and the brain.
Single gene disorders are typically rare but in aggregate account for a sizeable fraction of morbidity in the community. The era of large-scale DNA sequencing has brought an unprecedented opportunity to define their cause and study their pathogenesis.
We have a particular interest in a group of disorders called the filaminopathies. These are caused by mutations in a family of genes encoding proteins called filamins. Somewhat unexpectedly, mutation in one of the filamin genes causes both disorders of brain development and bone development. Our evolving interest has led to a programme of research that studies the development of both of these organ systems.
The Paediatric Department is one of three paediatric departments within the University of Otago, the other two being in Dunedin and Wellington.
The Christchurch Department of Paediatrics, which was established in 1972, has played a leading role in the development of teaching, research, and professional training for paediatrics and child health in New Zealand.
Our department works closely with a number of University basic science research groups and departments, such as the Centre for Free Radical Research.
We are committed to excellence in teaching to both undergraduate medical students as well as postgraduate students.
Our department is also active in a variety of research projects within the field of Child Health including:
- Sleep and breathing in preterm and term infants as well as in the older paediatric age-range
- Acute and chronic complications of diabetes
- Epilepsy Research Group, improving the quality of life for children with epilepsy and their families
- Allergy and infectious disease
- The impact of preterm birth on cardiac autonomic function, vascular function, and the development of regional adiposity
The Department of Psychological Medicine is one of the largest Departments at the University of Otago, Christchurch. Over the past decade it has grown from a staff of less than ten to over forty.
The Department continues to be actively involved in the teaching of Psychological Medicine to medical students. The Department is also responsible for the academic programme for Christchurch’s successful psychiatric registrar training programme.
Research interests include:
- Christchurch Health and Development Study
- Clinical Research Unit (Mental Health)
- Eating disorders research
- Late effects of prematurity
- National Addiction Centre
Providing outstanding health care to women, youth, children, their families and whānau
The Department of Women's and Children's Health at the Dunedin School of Medicine has two sections:
Both sections have a long and proud tradition in the University of Otago for their teaching and research.
The Department holds positions of national leadership in the form of:
- Curatorship of the National Mortality Review Data Group
- Hosting of the New Zealand Paediatric Surveillance Unit
- New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service
These three units have been brought together under the banner of the Child Youth Policy Research Support Service (CYPRSS).
Our mission is Reducing the global burden of diabetes and obesity. We aim to reduce the prevalence, and to improve the management, of diabetes and obesity by finding new ways to prevent and treat these conditions. By striving for research excellence and encouraging international collaboration we can bring the greatest benefit to New Zealanders and the wider world. We’re sharing our discoveries with individuals, communities, teachers, health professionals and policymakers.
Our child-health-related research includes:
- APPLE: A pilot programme for lifestyle and exercise
- BLISS: Baby-led introduction to solids
- Family-based Pacific child obesity prevention
- MInT: Motivational interviewing in treatment
- Play study
- POI:Prevention of overweight in infancy
Epilepsy is the most common serious brain disorder worldwide. It is characterised by seizures which can occur at any age. 1 in 20 people will have seizures at some stage in their lives. In New Zealand, there are 38,000 individuals living with epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a group of disorders organised into syndromes defined by age of onset, types of seizures, EEG features and comorbidities. We now know that genetic abnormalities are the cause of the majority of epilepsy. Unfortunately, to date only a small percentage of the genes responsible for the epilepsies have been identified. These genes encode many different ion channel subunits and brain-expressed proteins.
Epilepsy Research Group aims to:
- Identify new and refine emerging epilepsy syndromes
- Elucidate the genetic architecture of the epilepsies
- Discover the genes that cause the epilepsies
- Work toward precision medicine with targeted therapies for epilepsies
Genetics lies at the root of many human diseases. At Genetics Otago, we have a remarkable breadth of human genetics research studying both complex and single-gene diseases. As an example, researchers at the Cancer Genetics Laboratory are world-leaders in their field.
Our human developmental disease research provides an insight into how human embryos work, and how that is related to human health. We study both the genetics and epigenetics of human development and cell division.
Pharmocogenomics is another major area of research—this is a modern approach to understanding the side-effects of, and sensitivities to, drug treatments—by analysing the effect of a person's genes on their response to drugs.
The Health, Environment and Infection Research Unit is a collaboration of researchers focused on the impact of infectious diseases and adverse environmental factors on population health. We use a range of research methods to investigate these health concerns; to identify effective interventions to reduce the burden of disease and inequalities; and to support the move to greater environmental sustainability. HEIRU aims to provide evidence-based recommendations and advice to support New Zealand and international agencies and practitioners in their disease prevention and control activities.
The Healthier Lives National Science Challenge is a national research collaboration dedicated to achieving healthier lives for all New Zealanders.
We are working on the prevention and treatment of four of New Zealand’s main non-communicable diseases:
- Cardiovascular disease
Our mission is to deliver the right prevention to the right population and the right treatment to the right patient. We plan to do this in partnership with stakeholders and communities by generating world class research, and translating our research findings into innovative health policy, practice, and technology, designed for New Zealand’s unique communities.
The Health Inequalities Research Programme is a longstanding programme of research hosted by the Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington. HIRP encompasses a series of research projects including the New Zealand Census Mortality and CancerTrends Study (NZCMS/CT), the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, and the Virtual Health Information Network (VHIN). The aim of HIRP is to capitalise on New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) to provide information to influence and support policies and programmes that will reduce inequalities in health.
The Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit aims to foster excellence in research in health promotion and public health policy. HePPRU works in collaboration with policy-makers and policy advocates to advance the good health of the peoples of Aotearoa / New Zealand through independent, critical and innovative research, teaching, and community service.
He Kainga Oranga, the Housing and Health Research Programme, examines and clarifies the links between Housing and Health. Although the association between poor housing and ill health is known, the links that make up the causal chain have until recently been poorly understood. Conducting our own studies and examining existing evidence enables us to identify and evaluate housing-related interventions to improve individual, family and community health. Our multi-disciplinary team has expertise in both qualitative and quantitative disciplines.
- Housing and childhood respiratory illness
- Rheumatic fever and housing conditions
- Cool? Exploring fuel poverty with youth
The Infection Group are interested in all aspects of human infection, and our research aims to provide new insights into the prevention, management, surveillance and control of infections of global importance. We are a research collaboration between the University of Otago and the Canterbury District Health Board, based in Christchurch, with members and collaborators in other centres.
Modern neonatal practice has significantly improved outcomes for children born very preterm.
However, as they grow up, they are at increased risk for a range of neuro-developmental problems that impact on both home and school life.
A Canterbury team has been studying the brain and behavioural development since birth, of 110 children born very preterm along with 113 term born peers.
This research group covers both maternal and fetal health and outcome.
Our work includes database development for both complex fetal problems and for mothers with underlying medical issues.
Our staff engage in a number of clinical trials in New Zealand and internationally exploring:
- Placental transfusion (Sydney)
- Neuroprotection of magnesium sulphate (Adelaide) and related MRI scanning (Auckland)
- Sildenafil therapy in early onset intrauterine growth restriction (Auckland)
- Optimal glycaemic targets for gestational diabetes (Auckland)
- Prediabetes in pregnancy (Christchurch)
- Protective factors of Syncytial Virus vaccine against lung disease in babies (USA)
- Baby movements (Brisbane)
Why do cancer cells survive and proliferate while fresh new fetal cells fade and die?
In the Hung and Slatter Laboratory, Department of Pathology, we are interested in translating knowledge about some of the most fundamental aspects of cell fate to the bedside. This work involves tissue samples from many different conditions such as precancerous lesions, cancer, the placenta, and autoimmune disease.
In conjunction with Dr Celia Devenish, in the Dunedin School of Medicine Department of Children’s and Women’s Health, “The Otago Placental Study (OPuS)” is being established as a cohort of abnormal and normal placentas for study. We have shown that human papillomavirus (HPV) in the placenta is a key factor in some complications during pregnancy.
The National Addiction Centre (formerly the National Centre for Treatment Development (Alcohol, Drugs & Addiction)) was established by the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand in 1996 particularly as a resource for the alcohol and drug treatment field of New Zealand.
We are a university-based centre dedicated to improving treatment and prevention of addiction and related problems for people in Aotearoa New Zealand.
There are three main activities by which the National Addiction Centre aims to achieve its mission:
- Research projects
- Teaching and training programmes
- Consultation and liaison
The aim of the National Centre for Lifecourse Research is to build collaborations via research and policy translation nationally and internationally.
The NCLR and partners have a long history of conducting world-leading lifecourse research with particular emphasis on:
- Research on human development aimed at informing policy and practice
- Intervention research: Assessing the impact of programmes and interventions on people's lives
We collate and disseminate information on the health of children and young people in New Zealand.
The New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service (NZCYES) was established in 2004, and has been hosted by the University of Otago since March 2009 within the Paediatrics section of the Department of Women's and Children's Health in the Dunedin School of Medicine.
Through its annual report series, the New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service:
- Provides the New Zealand health sector with up to date and accurate information of the health of children and young people
- Highlights areas where there are disparities in child and youth health, or where inequities in service provision mean that children and young people are not reaching their full potential
- Contributes to the evidence base for policy development in child and youth health
- Shares the Service's expertise with other researchers interested in improving the wellbeing of children and young people.
The NZ Mortality Review Data Group—Te Rōpū Kohi Pitopito Mōhiotanga mō te Taka Mate, was established in 2003 to support the national Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee (CYMRC). We now also support the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (established 2006), and since 2016, the Perioperative Mortality Review Committee.
We have a contract with the Health Quality & Safety Commission to receive and store data, manage a database and provide data and research support for the above committees. We are also heavily involved in the CYMRC research programme. Having been involved in mortality review from the inception of the first still-existing national mortality review committee in 2002, we have a wealth of experience and expertise in this area.
The group receives information from a variety of sources, such as health, coronial, transport, water safety and child protection data, and data gained from the process of local review of each death, which is stored in a comprehensive database. This is a valuable resource that is being used increasingly to research areas of interest and importance.
We have expertise in mortality research, the process of mortality review, and the development of IT systems to support the above. Our team is made up of data and IT experts, research analysts and a clinical epidemiologist.
The New Zealand National Poisons Centre (NZNPC) answers enquiries both from health professionals and from the general public concerning acute poisoning and the toxic effects of chemicals, drugs, poisonous plants, poisonous insects and marine animals. The 24-hour telephone number is 0800 POISON (0800 764-766). The NPC also maintains an extensive database (TOXINZ) that contains information and treatment guidelines for the management of poisoned patients. The database contains some 200,000 listed chemical products, pharmaceuticals, plants and hazardous creatures. It has New Zealand specific trade names, household products, plant and animal species.
Our Kidzone page has some games to help children learn about safety.
The New Zealand Paediatric Surveillance Unit (NZPSU) was established with funding from the Ministry of Health in order to:
- Operate a system for monitoring acute flaccid paralysis, as part of the global certification of eradication of poliomyelitis, required by the World Health Organization
- Facilitate national surveillance and improve the knowledge of uncommon childhood conditions in New Zealand
The NZPSU is part of the Department of Women's and Children's Health, Dunedin School of Medicine.
The Ngāi Tahu Māori Health Research Unit is a partnership between Te Runanga o Ngāi Tahu and the Dunedin School of Medicine of the University of Otago. The Unit collects, collates, interprets and publishes information, data and statistics on Māori health issues.
Our child health collaborations include:
- Reducing disease burden and health inequalities arising from chronic dental disease among Indigenous children: an early childhood caries intervention
We provide expertise and sequencing resources to New Zealand researchers and industry including:
- Project design and advice
- Illumina HiSeq sequencing
- Illumina MiSeq sequencing
- Nanostring nCounter Analysis System
The Otago Genomics Facility is an Illumina Propel-certified service provider for Illumina HiSeq 2500 and MiSeq sequencing platforms, and is also a Nanostring nCounter Analysis System core facility.
At the Otago Global Health Institute (OGHI), we foster partnerships to help solve global health problems. OGHI harnesses both technical and collaborative strengths across the Divisions, Schools, and Departments of the University of Otago to make them available to share with partners as we seek together to find solutions to complex global health problems.
Talofa lava, kia orana, malo e lelei, fakaalofa lahi atu, bula vinaka, malo ni, halo ola keta, mauri, fakatalofa atu, and warm Pacific greetings!
We're celebrating our Pacific health research in the Division of Health Sciences.
Learn about what's going on in Pacific health research, how we can support researchers, and where to start if you're excited about research.
In Pacific child health read more about the research interests of an established professional, and a project from a young researcher:
- Dr Kiki Maoate: Childhood infection and paediatric surgery
- Ashleigh Raikuna: Severe childhood dental caries
The Reproduction, Genomics and Development Group, in the Department of Anatomy, is made up of a number of labs that explore different aspects of development: from fertilisation and the processes governing the very first cellular divisions, through to adulthood, and how problems that arise during early development and gestation may have effects on the health of individuals and populations.
Our group explores these questions in humans, model systems, and a host of unique and understudied animal taxa.
Whānau, Wellbeing and Health
The Research for Children Aotearoa collaborative brings together established research institutes, organisations, and communities to advance equitable, innovative, world-leading research for children. Proudly supported by Te Papa Hauora, this collaborative fosters research excellence across disciplines to strengthen impact across clinical, medical, sociological, and educational domains.
Te Papa Hauora is a strategic partnership between Canterbury’s major tertiary and health institutions; the University of Canterbury, the University of Otago, Ara Institute of Canterbury and the Te Whatu Ora Waitaha, working together with representatives from Ngāi Tahu, a foundation member.
We support optimum design and analysis of your research, and provide skill development opportunities.
Our academic leadership is of the highest calibre and we have extensively experienced and skilled staff.
Our services are available to researchers in institutions, industry, government and private companies.
The School of Pharmacy has a very active research programme with disciplines ranging from science to humanities.
We have three main research areas:
- Pharmaceutical Sciences: drug discovery, drug metabolism and drug action to extend the range of drugs available and to provide a scientific basis for the quality use of medicines and bioactive substances.
- Clinical Pharmacy: concerned with patient care and the optimisation of medicine use in order to promote health and wellness, and prevent disease.
- Social Pharmacy: our research focuses mainly on access to, and use of medicines.
Our School of Pharmacy child health research page provides a taste of our relevant research.
The Division of Health Sciences benefits from its high calibre of staff and their wide range of skills and research expertise.
Our Staff Expertise Database provides details on University of Otago, Health Sciences staff. Each staff profile provides information on qualifications, current academic position, contact details, and a summary of research and publications.
You can search our database by keyword (eg child health) or by name.
The Sir John Walsh Research Institute is the research arm of the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Otago.
Oral health is essential for wellbeing. We lead the advancement of oral health research, and practice in New Zealand by combining the strengths of biological, clinical, and public health expertise. From the molecular level through biological systems to the health of populations, our research is improving oral health in New Zealand.
Our research objectives are:
- To develop clinical research that translates discoveries into measurable health benefits
- To maintain fundamental research that underpins our teaching
We are uniquely placed within the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Otago—the only dental school in New Zealand, and ranked highly worldwide. This enables researchers and clinicians to work together to solve specific oral health problems and to rapidly translate findings into improved clinical practice.
Read more about some of our work in child oral health:
- Further funding success (Transformer Tooth and Hall Technique)
- Dunedin dental study "most read" article
The Cancer Society Social and Behavioural Research Unit was established in 1990 with core funding from the Cancer Society of New Zealand and the support of the University of Otago. Presently it has research programmes operating in our six priority areas of tobacco control, ultraviolet radiation exposure, physical activity and nutrition, psycho-social-spiritual factors, alcohol, and Hauora Māori.
Te Rōpū Rangahau i te Mate Whakamomori me te Hauora Hinengaro | Suicide and Mental Health Group is a multi-disciplinary team of researchers and clinicians. It contributes to knowledge, policy, and services by conducting high quality research in suicide prevention, mental health and illness.
The following sections highlight research activities undertaken in the Suicide and Mental Health Research Group. These build on a number of previous projects undertaken individually and collectively:
- Suicide prevention
- Mental Health research
- Primary care
- Community mental health
- Understanding diverse sex development / intersexuality in NZ
- Pacific Mental Health
Te Rōpū Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare strives to create a Kaupapa Māori space committed to improving Māori health outcomes and eliminating inequalities through quality science and ongoing theoretical development. It takes a rights-based approach consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi, and is engaged with community through a spectrum of influence from community development, policy advocacy, research dissemination and Māori health research workforce development.
Read more about our work for young mothers:
The Wellington Asthma Research Group is a multidisciplinary team of researchers based in the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington.
Our research programme covers clinical, biomedical and public health aspects of allergy, asthma and respiratory research, including studies to understand the causes and investigate novel treatments.
Funding for our research comes from a wide variety of sources but our core funding is provided by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.