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Department of Pathology News Archive 2014

December 2014

The Infection Group featured in the 2014 BMJ Christmas edition 

journal cover - BMJ Christmas 2014Writing in the tongue and cheek Christmas edition of the BMJ, researchers from The Infection Group’s VIDARIS study have determined that vitamin D supplementation did not reduce the adverse impact of earthquakes in healthy adults.

The data comes from 322 participants who took part in the VIDARIS study which was a double blind randomised placebo controlled trial investigating the effect of vitamin D supplementation on the incidence and/or severity of acute respiratory infections-colds and flu in adults.

The study was conducted in Christchurch, New Zealand, between February 2010 and November 2011. During this time, the region experienced a series of catastrophic earthquakes. These began on 4 September 2010 at 4 35 am, when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck. A series of aftershocks followed, with the most devastating being a 6.3 magnitude earthquake on 22 February 2011 at 12 51 pm, resulting in 185 deaths, the loss of more than 60% of the central business district, and severe damage to housing and infrastructure.

Participants were randomised to vitamin D received orally supplementation of 200 000 IU at study initiation, another 200 000 IU one month later, and then 100 000 IU monthly thereafter for 18 months. Those randomised to placebo received matching inactive tablets given in an identical dosing regimen.

A total of 308 participants completed an earthquake impact questionnaire, which found no difference in the overall impact score between the group taking vitamin D and those on the placebo.

Cure Kids funding for The Infection Group

logo - Cure KidsResearch Fellow Dr Amy Scott-Thomas from The Infection Group’s Breath Research Lab has been awarded funding from Cure Kids to investigate if a non-invasive breath test can distinguish between non-mucoid and mucoid P. aeruginosa infection in the cystic fibrosis lung.

November 2014

Marsden funding success for the Centre for Free Radical Research

Mark Hampton in the labProfessor Mark Hampton from the Centre for Free Radical Research has been awarded $815,000.00 of Marsden funding over three years for his project on “Redox regulation of necroptotic cell death’’.

The success rate for standard projects in the biomedical science category was only 5.9%, which translates into 7 of 118 grants funded.

The project includes co-investigators from Australia (James Murphy), India (Vikas Kumar) and the USA (Guy Salvesen).

The project will investigate multicellular organisms which have carefully regulated death programs to remove damaged or unwanted cells. Faults in these programs contribute to human disease.

Apoptosis is the best-studied cell death program, and drugs have been designed to promote apoptosis in cancer cells. Necroptosis is a newly recognised cell death program, and little is understood about the cellular changes that occur upon
activation.

Preliminary data indicate increased oxidation of specific cellular proteins and a dramatic loss in mitochondrial function during the early stages of necroptosis. This project will use newly-developed technology to unravel the details of these redox changes and their significance in the initiation and regulation of necroptosis.

Prof Hampton will also determine if the sensitivity of cells to necroptosis can be promoted or inhibited by genetic and pharmacological modification of the antioxidant pathways of cells.

October 2014

Chlorine on the airways: Radio NZ Our Changing World Series

Starfish by Fernand Leger
Starfish (L'Etoile de mer) by Fernand Léger. Photo: Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Professor Tony Kettle from the Centre for Free Radical Research was interviewed for Radio New Zealand’s Our Changing World Series which aired on 15 October 2014.

In the feature, Chlorine bleach in the airways, Tony and some of his team explain how they  have discovered the lungs of children with cystic fibrosis were damaged from an early age by white blood cells trying to kill bacteria.

Chlorine bleach, produced by the white blood cells to kill bacteria, destroys critical molecules in the airways.

Free Radical Research Featured on TVNZ's Sunday

Margreet Vissers on TVNZs Sunday programme 2014Professor Margreet Vissers from the Centre for Free Radical Research appeared on TVNZs Sunday programme in an story on high dose vitamin C and cancer.

Lab tests at UOC have shown tumours with higher levels of Vitamin C were less aggressive and slower to grow than ones with lower levels of the vitamin.

Now Margreet wants to take these investigations to a new level with human trials.

"What we want to find out, we want to know is if we increase the amount of Vitamin C is that going to slow the tumour growth as well? We suspect it will."

Patients would be given high doses of Vitamin C intravenously under controlled conditions. Professor Vissers' team would monitor the impact of the Vitamin on the cancer.

But this new trial needs about $1 million in funding and money is scarce. The Health Research Council recently declined an application for full funding, so the University is re-applying for a smaller amount of start-up money.

"We're ready to go," Professor Vissers says, adding, "we have all of the expertise in place, we have all of the samples in place, we have all of the collaborations in place."

The article, A miracle man, originally screened on 12 October at 7.00pm on TV One.

Watch A miracle man article online
Learn more about The Vitamin C for Cancer Trust

September 2014

CMRF funding success for the Department

High performance liquid chromatography in the Centre for Free Radical ResearchFive of the nine research grants awarded by the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation went to staff in the Department of Pathology.

Dr Amy Scott-Thomas from The Infection Group has been awarded funding for her project on the development of a non-invasive breath test for Legionnaires’ disease.

Funding to investigate oxidative stress in the pathology and treatment of cystic fibrosis has been awarded to Dr Nina Dickerhof from the Centre for Free Radical Research.

Dr Stephanie Bozonet from the Centre for Free Radical Research has received funding to investigate the regulation of endothelial cell death by hypothiocyanous acid.

Dr Louisa Forbes from the Centre for Free Radical Research has been awarded a grant for her project to screen for potent inhibitors of myeloperoxidase.

Dr Paul Pace, also from the Centre for Free Radical Research, has received a grant for his project on redox regulation of neuronal development by the antioxidant Rrx2.

July 2014

Gene Structure and Function Laboratory get access to tiny super DNA tester

Martin Kennedy and Simone Cree with new and existing DNA sequencers  The Gene Structure and Function Laboratory have won the right to trial arguably the world’s smallest and most efficient DNA analyser.

Professor Martin Kennedy and his colleagues are among a select group of researchers worldwide given the hand-held DNA sequencer. The tiny device can analyse DNA 500 times faster than the expensive, suitcase-sized machine currently used by Professor Kennedy’s laboratory.

The ‘MinIon’ machine was developed in the United Kingdom. Scientists applied, then had to pass a selection process, to test the machine and provide feedback before the units are release for sale.

Professor Kennedy says the machines are novel because of their small size, ability to analyse long strands of DNA, and the technology used in them.

“There are other machines on the market which can do the same thing but they cost $1 million each. We really hope these simple-to-operate, little machines will allow more people to access the technology for a lot less money.’’

June 2014

2014 HRC Project Funding for Legionnaires' Disease

logo - hrcHead of Department Professor David Murdoch has been awarded a 2014 Health Research Council Project Grant to further investigate Legionnaires' disease in New Zealand: improving diagnostics and treatment.

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia that is under-diagnosed in New Zealand. Special tests are required to make a diagnosis of legionnaires’ disease, but there are no clear guidelines about which patients to test.

An enhanced testing system for legionnaires’ disease was developed in Canterbury and has been used there since 2010. The system involves targeted use of the current best test for legionnaires’ disease: PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which detects bacterial DNA. This approach has uncovered many cases of legionnaires’ disease that would have otherwise gone undetected.

This study will roll out this same testing strategy across New Zealand for one year in order to measure the national burden of legionnaires’ disease, to improve patient treatment, to identify cost-effective ways to test for legionnaires’ disease in the future, and to create better guidelines for the treatment of pneumonia.

Other investigators working on this project include Prof Steve Chambers, A/Prof Patricia Priest and Dr Ian Sheerin.

April 2014

Postgraduate Tassell Scholarship in Cancer Research 

Annika SeddonRecent BBiomedSc(Hons) graduate Annika Seddon has been awarded the Postgraduate Tassell Scholarship in Cancer Research to undertake her PhD studies in the Centre for Free Radical Research.

Annika will begin her PhD entitled, Investigating the biology of tumour-associated neutrophils on 1 April and will be supervised by Professor Mark Hampton, Dr Margaret Currie (Mackenzie Cancer Research Group) and Professor Tony Kettle.

March 2014

Testing for Legionnaires' disease: Radio NZ Our Changing World

David MurdochProfessors David Murdoch and Steve Chambers were recently interviewed for Radio NZ’s Our Changing World series about their research into Legionnaires’ disease.

In the feature, Testing for Legionnaires’ Disease, David and Steve discuss how through a collaboration with the Canterbury Health Laboratories every person admitted to Christchurch Hospital with pneumonia is now routinely screened for Legionnaires’ disease. The results have seen a fourfold increase in confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

February 2014

Awards for Pathology Staff at Academic Inauguration 2014

Martin Kennedy with Research Gold MedalThe Department of Pathology received a number of awards at the Academic Inauguration held on 14 February 2014 in the Rolleston Lecture Theatre.

Professor Martin Kennedy from the Gene Structure and Function Laboratory was the recipient of a University of Otago Research Gold Medal.

A number of teaching awards were also received with the Pathology Vertical Module voted as CMSA Best Vertical Module – 4th Year, and Dr Sean MacPherson winning CMSA Best Vertical Module Teacher – 5th Year. These two awards were voted for by the UOC Medical Students at the end of last year.

Dr Andrew Miller and Dr Alastair Murray from Anatomical Pathology each received a Teaching Award from the Dean, Professor Peter Joyce.

Summer student Hannah Palmer from the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group was also presented the Canterbury Branch NZ Federation of Graduate Women (Inc) Trust Board Prize for Best Overall Project.

January 2014

Pathology Summer Student wins Best Overall Project Prize

Hannah Palmer summer studentship winner 2014Mackenzie Cancer Research Group Summer Student Hannah Palmer has won the UOC Overall Best Project Prize for 2013-14.

During her 10-week project, Hannah investigated how a protein in fatty tissue can make breast tumour cells more invasive, leading to increased metastasis and, ultimately, more cancer deaths.

The results show that proteins secreted by fatty tissue promote migration of breast cancer cells, meaning that obesity or excess fatty tissue not only increases incidence of cancer occurring but is also associated with a worse prognosis in those already suffering with cancer.

Hannah’s project was supervised by Dr Elisabeth Phillips and was funded by the Breast Cancer Foundation.

Read The Press/Stuff article about Hannah’s project.