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Department of Pathology News Archive 2015

December 2015

A radical life – Festschrift for Professor Christine Winterbourn

Christine Winterbourn Festschrift Attendees 2015Scientists from around the world this week celebrated the exceptional career of Professor Christine Winterbourn, whose research in the area of free radical science has spanned more than four decades.

The Festschrift for Professor Winterbourn also marked the beginning of an international conference of free radical scientists.

Professor Winterbourn says she enjoyed the gathering of so many past students, colleagues and collaborators and listening to them describe their experiences of working or interacting with her over the years. In her Festschrift address, she recounted her memories of the development of the field of free radical biology from its early beginnings, how her work influenced this development, and the pleasure she had derived from her research career.

Professor Tony Kettle is a director of the Centre for Free Radical Research and one of the many scientists Professor Winterbourn has mentored.

He says it was essential a Festschrift be held for Professor Winterbourn because of her enormous contribution to science in New Zealand and internationally.

Professor Kettle says the Festschrift was a great success with speakers all acknowledging Professor Winterbourn’s amazing contribution to science. A highlight was the presentation by the Vice Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne of a book (entitled A Radical Life) containing tributes from more than 50 of her students and colleagues.

Read the media release about the Festschrift
Read the full article on Otago Bulletin

Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia Outstanding Teaching Award

Dr Jacqui Gardner has received an Outstanding Teaching Award from the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia.

November 2015

NZSO Translational Research Award for free radical professor

Professor Margreet Vissers from the Centre for Free Radical Research was the 2015 recipient of the New Zealand Society for Oncology Translational Research Award.

The award is in recognition of Professor Vissers' vitamin C and cancer research.

October 2015

Radio New Zealand interviews Free Radical Researcher about antibiotic resistance

Tony Kettle
Professor Tony Kettle

Professor Tony Kettle from the Centre for Free Radical Research discussed antibiotic resistance on Radio New Zealand’s Sunday Morning programme on 18 October 2015.

The Centre for Free Radical Research were awarded $4.8 million by the HRC earlier this year to find new ways to diagnose and treat bacterial infections.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria is fast becoming a major global health issue. Professor Kettle told Radio New Zealand that antibiotics could become useless against infections within 10 years unless we change the way we use them.

Listen to the interview on Radio New Zealand

September 2015

Free Radical Researcher featured on TVNZ's One News

Margreet Vissers on TVNZs Sunday programme 2014
Professor Margreet Vissers in the lab

Centre for Free Radical Research Principal Investigator Professor Margreet Vissers featured on TVNZ’s One News on Tuesday, 28 September 2015.

The news item was about recent funding Professor Vissers received from the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation and the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation to further her work on vitamin C and cancer.

Professor Vissers and her team will use the funds to investigate if high dose vitamin C is a viable cancer therapy by exploring its effect on breast tumours.

Professor Vissers says the use of vitamin C by cancer patients is commonplace, but controversial. While there are reports of success, there is little scientific evidence to help our understanding of the role vitamin C might play.

Watch the One News item
Read the press release about this study
Learn more about the Vitamin C for Cancer Trust

Cancer Researcher recipient of Rutherford Discovery Fellowship

Logan Walker
Dr Logan Walker

Senior Research Fellow Dr Logan Walker is one of twelve Rutherford Discovery Fellows announced for 2015 by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Dr Walker will receive $800,000 over the next five years to develop better methods for identifying high-risk breast and ovarian cancer patients, and new approaches for evaluating the clinical significance of genetic changes.

The new knowledge and expertise derived from this project will facilitate the development of genomic-based protocols to evaluate genetic changes responsible for other inherited diseases.

CMRF Major Project Grants for Emerging Researchers awarded to the Department

logo - Canterbury Medical Research FoundationThe Department of Pathology, UOC took out four of the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation’s Major Project Grants for Emerging Researchers in the 2015 round.

From the Centre of Free Radical Research Dr Anitra Carr received funding to investigate Vitamin C requirements in severe infection; and Dr Juliet Pullar received funding for her project on Red blood cell vitamin C: a useful indicator or patient ascorbate status?

Dr Logan Walker’s project for RNA isoform profiling of breast cancer susceptibility genes was also successful in the funding round. Dr Walker is based in the MacKenzie Cancer Research Group.

The Infection Group’s Dr Anja Werno also received a grant for a project on Mycoplasma genitalium macrolide and fluoroquinolone.

June 2015

Two Pathology Researchers receive Early Career Awards

Anitra Carr
Dr Anitra Carr

Two of the five Otago Early Career Awards for 2015 went to researchers in the Department of Pathology.

Dr Logan Walker (Mackenzie Cancer Research Group) and Dr Anitra Carr (Centre of Free Radical Research) were selected for the award on the basis of their outstanding research achievements.

Each recipient receives $5000 to support their research and scholarly development.

Dr Walker said that he is very appreciative of the award.

“It will be used to strengthen my links with national and international collaborators so that my research can continue to help high-risk cancer families.”

Dr Carr says, “I was really surprised and pleased to receive this award. As a working mother who has had to take time out from research to raise children, I appreciate still being considered eligible for this early career award.”

HRC funding to find new ways to save lives by killing antibiotic-resistant bacteria

CFRR team leaders
CFRR Principal Investigators

The Centre for Free Radical Research has been awarded $4.8 million in Health Research Council funding over the next 5 years to find new ways to diagnose and treat bacterial infections.

The program of research recognises the significant threat posed by growing rates of global infections, and the ever decreasing ability of antibiotics to kill bacteria that cause fatal infections. Research projects will be led by Professors Mark Hampton, Margreet Vissers, and Christine Winterbourn.

Antimicrobial resistance is recognised by Governments and international medical bodies as a serious threat to health and lives. Dire scenarios predict that within the next decade people will die from infections we now treat simply with antibiotics.

Professor Tony Kettle says the overuse of antibiotics, particularly general ones that target many types of bacteria, has allowed a wide range of bugs to develop resistance, and render many common antibiotics useless.

Over five years, the Centre will:

  • Develop better ways to determine exactly which bacteria are responsible for an infection so the right antibiotics can be used.
  • Understand how some bacteria evade neutrophils and promote serious infections.
  • Identify new strategies for the development of new types of antibiotics.

The HRC also awarded Professor Kettle $800,000 to understand how white blood cells damages the lungs of young children with cystic fibrosis.

May 2015

Free radical researcher awarded HRC Feasibilty Study Grant to study vitamin C and cancer

Margreet Vissers
Professor Margreet Vissers

Professor Margreet Vissers from the Centre for Free Radical Research has been awarded a HRC feasibility study grant for a vitamin C and cancer study.

Professor Vissers has done many studies on vitamin C, and in both laboratory studies and the analysis of human cancer tissue has found evidence that the more ascorbate a cancerous tumour contains, the slower it grows.

With this $100,000 HRC grant, Professor Vissers and her team will collect tumour tissue from colorectal cancer patients, before and after surgery, to determine whether vitamin C accumulates in the tumour tissue and whether this affects its biology in a way that could slow cancer growth and spread.

Many cancer patients seek alternative therapies for their disease, with the administration of high-dose vitamin C (ascorbate) being commonplace. This practice continues despite a lack of evidence as to its efficacy and a lack of understanding of how vitamin C might be of benefit.

Infectious disease spread looming issue for Nepal

David Murdoch
Professor David Murdoch

There is a high chance of the spread of potentially life-threatening diseases such as gastroenteritis and cholera in post-quake Nepal, but New Zealanders can play their part in saving lives, says Professor David Murdoch an infectious disease expert who was in Nepal when the disaster struck.

Over the past two decades, the Head of the Department of Pathology has worked and conducted research studies in Nepal, including providing evidence to establish a national pneumonia vaccination for children. He is also a board member of the Himalayan Trust, set up by Sir Edmund Hillary.

Professor Murdoch was in Kathmandu to work and teach at Patan Hospital when the magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit.

He says that hospital had a disaster plan for such an event which they had practiced last year, and in the days following were coping extremely well considering the scale of the disaster.
Food, fresh water and safe shelter were likely to be in short supply both in the city and rural areas. In such situations with displaced populations, the spread of diseases such as cholera and gastroenteritis is a common occurrence, Professor Murdoch says.

Ongoing financial assistance to help provide these basics could minimise the spread of disease and further death. Professor Murdoch says far richer countries than Nepal would struggle to deal with a natural disaster on the scale of the recent earthquakes.

He flew out of the country several days after the initial earthquake.

“It was one of the hardest decisions of my life. It was gut-wrenching. My connection with Nepal is deeply personal and a large part of me wanted to stay behind, but I hope I can do more good by being in New Zealand through activities of the Himalayan Trust.’’

March 2015

Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI) launches in New Zealand

CDHB Kennedy and Jordan image
Prof Martin Kennedy and Dr Jenny Jordan

The Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI) has been launched in New Zealand with a lecture about eating disorder myths Professor Cindy Bulik from the University of North Carolina, USA.

Genetics Professor Martin Kennedy and Dr Jenny Jordan (from Department of Psychological Medicine) are establishing the New Zealand arm. Globally, more than 13,000 people will be recruited to the ANGI study, including more than a thousand New Zealanders.

The initiative is the most rigorous global effort to detect genetic variations contributing to this potentially life-threatening illness.

Professor Kennedy says it was previously thought studying hundreds of people’s genes could identify significant variations related to a psychiatric disease. However it is now believed studying thousands of people is more likely required, because each gene has only a tiny effect on risk.

“It is possible there are hundreds of genes involved in anorexia nervosa, related to controlling certain brain pathways. If we understand the pathways affected, we can start to target them with medication. Anorexia is a complex disease but the ANGI project is a step down a long path that we hope will ultimately lead to better prediction, prevention and treatment.’’

To be part of the ANGI study, people will have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at any time in their life.
Watch Prof Cindy Bulik’s Public Health Lecture

February 2015

Pathology staff receive Teaching Awards at Academic Inauguration

Sean MacPherson
Dr Sean MacPherson

Two members of the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group were awarded Teaching Awards by Professor Peter Joyce, Dean of UOC at the 2015 Academic Inauguration on 13 February 2015.

A/Prof Gabi Dachs and Dr Margaret Currie were among the recipients this year, along with Dr Gavin Harris from Anatomical Pathology.

Dr Sean MacPherson, Senior Lecturer of Haematology was also recognised for his teaching efforts by the undergraduate students. He won the CMSA Best Vertical Module Teacher Award from both the Year Four and Year Five MB ChB 2014 classes.

January 2015

Pathology summer students win Best Project Prizes

Summer student Sam Hall-McMaster in the lab
Summer Student Sam Hall-McMaster

Two Department of Pathology summer students have been awarded prizes at the UOC Summer Student Final Presentations session.

Mackenzie Cancer Research Group student Sam Hall-McMaster recieved the Best Overall Project Prize for his project, Are breast tumour cells and adipocytes co-conspirators in aggressive breast tumours?

Sam completed his 10 week project under the supervision of Dr Elisabeth Phillips and Dr Margaret Currie.

The Best Laboratory Prize was awarded to Centre for Free Radical Research student Helena Trollope. Helena’s project Reactions of urate hydroperoxide with biological targets was supervised by Prof Tony Kettle.

Sam and Helena will be presented their awards at the 2015 Academic Inauguration.

Pathology researchers receive academic promotions

Gabi Dachs
Associate Professor Gabi Dachs

Mackenzie Cancer Research Group researcher Gabi Dachs has been promoted to Research Associate Professor.

Dr Logan Walker, also from the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group and Dr Anitra Carr from the Centre for Free Radical Research have both been promoted to Senior Research Fellows.

The promotions were announced by Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne. These well-earned promotions take effect from 1 February.