Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Department of Pathology News Archive 2016

Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo ki Ōtautahi – Pūranga karere 2016

December 2016

PhD student wins PSOC’s Best Exit Seminar Award

Vanessa Lattimore PSOC Best Exit Seminar 2016
PhD student Vanessa Lattimore

PhD student Vanessa Lattimore from the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group has won the 2016 PSOC Best Exit Seminar award.

The Postgraduate Student Otago (Christchurch) association assembles a panel of UOC research staff each yearto judge which student gave the best seminar at the UOC Research Seminar Series upon or nearing completion of their PhD.

Vanessa gave her seminar in August on genetic variation and mRNA splicing in familial breast cancer genes.

Pathology inter-campus meeting held in Christchurch

The Department hosted the Departments of Pathology from both Dunedin and Wellington on 8 December funded by the Otago Medical School intercampus collaborative teaching initiative.

The meeting resulted in the continuing harmonisation of the Advanced Learning in Medicine (ALM) curriculum between Otago Medical School’s departments of Pathology. Discussions included teaching strategies, e-learning resources and the continuing improvements of the course.

The meeting was attended by all 3 Heads of Departments of Pathology as well as the Course Conveners of many of the sub-disciplines.

UOC Christmas Hat Competition

Pathology admin team wins award at UOC Christmas hat competition
The Administration Team

The Department of Pathology dominated the number of prizewinners and overall entrants at the first UOC Christmas Hat competition held at the school-wide afternoon tea hosted by the Dean, Professor David Murdoch.

Our Pathology Administration Team won the Best Team Award for their Grinch who stole Christmas with Cindy Lou Who times two entry.

Professor Margreet Vissers won the Most Quirky Hat Award and Dr Abel Ang won the Most Environmentally Friendly Award.

Finalists from the department included Dr Alexander Peskin in the Most Environmentally Friendly category, Associate Professor Gabi Dachs in the Lab Rat category and HOD Professor Martin Kennedy in the Least Effort category.

November 2016

Second departmental symposium a success

Martin Kennedy presents Alice Milnes with the Best Talk award Pathology Symposium November 2016
Alice Milnes and Prof Martin Kennedy

The Department of Pathology held another successful symposium on 17-18 November in the Beaven Lecture Theatre.

Teaching Administrator Alice Milnes was surprised when she won the Best Talk Award at the second Department of Pathology Symposium this month.

“I was shocked when my name was announced. Everyone else is so much more experienced at presenting than I am. I’ve managed to avoid public speaking since I was in the fourth form so I was really nervous to be speaking in a lecture theatre”.

Alice’s talk was entitled, What we do in the shadows and she explained the department’s MB ChB Vertical Module teaching programme.

Dr Rufus Turner from the Centre for Free Radical Research received the Runner-Up Best Talk Award for his talk on The power of numbers.

All presenters are given 10 minutes to speak on any topic of their choice. Other topics included: Getting up to speed with exercise and breast cancer, Where do respiratory viruses go in the summer? and I'm all 'bout that base, 'bout that base…

All Pathology staff and students were encouraged to enter the limerick competition in the lead up to the symposium with a limerick on their research work or thesis. Almost 40 limericks were entered into the competition with HOD Professor Martin Kennedy winning first place.

The event was held over two half days on 17-18 November with a potluck dinner on the Thursday evening.

October 2016

UORG funding success for Pathology researchers

Mark Hampton
Professor Mark Hampton

Four Department of Pathology researchers have been awarded funding in the latest University of Otago Research Funding round.

Head of Department Professor Martin Kennedy has funding to evaluate methylome changes due to long term cannabis usage.

Professor Mark Hampton from the Centre for Free Radical Research has been awarded almost $80,000 over two years to investigate oxidative stress and ageing in the Dunedin study.

Funding to investigate the potential interaction of ascorbate with chemotherapy in a cancer model has been awarded to Associate Professor Gabi Dachs from the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group.

While Professor Steve Chambers from The Infection Group has been given a grant for his project on volatile markers of legionella metabolism, neutrophilic inflammation and their interaction.

September 2016

Department of Pathology showcases at Health Research Open Day

The Department of Pathology took the opportunity to showcase our research areas to the Christchurch public at the UOC Health Research Open Day on Sunday, 18 September.

Many of our research groups conducted laboratory tours each hour and had interactive stands set up in the foyer. Tours of the Denis Stewart Pathology Museum were also conducted.

Three of our PhD students gave three minute presentations in the Rolleston Lecture Theatre. Bee Bathish from the Centre from Free Radical Research discussed why you’ve Gotta love your oxidants; Emma Spencer, also from the Centre for Free Radical Research spoke about Targeting cancer cells with compounds from nature and Rebekah Crake from the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group presented Fighting fit: exercise therapy for improved chemotherapy outcome?

Dr Pippa Scott from The Infection Group and Professor Tony Kettle from the Centre for Free Radical Research both presented at the Research Showcase in the Rolleston Lecture Theatre.

First Inaugural Pathology Best Early Career Paper Prize winner announced

Nina Dickerhof
Dr Nina Dickerhof

Dr Nina Dickerhof from the Centre for Free Radical Research has been awarded the Inaugural Pathology Best Early Career Paper Prize for the article Macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) Is rendered enzymatically inactive by myeloperoxidase-derived oxidants but retains its immunomodulatory function published in Free Radical Biology & Medicine.

Dr Dickerhof’s paper describes a novel regulatory mechanism for macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF), a protein that plays an important role in our body’s inflammatory response. During inflammation, neutrophils produce reactive oxidants to kill invading pathogens.

The paper shows that these oxidants also modify MIF. This is relevant because the site of modification influences the binding of MIF to its biological receptor. Furthermore, oxidatively modified MIF may also be a marker of neutrophil activation during inflammation.

This paper was the result of a fruitful collaboration with the laboratory of MIF expert Jürgen Bernhagen at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

Lisa Schindler, a student from the Aachen group visited the Centre for Free Radical Research for six months in 2014 and worked with Nina on the MIF project. She is currently undertaking a PhD at the LMU Munich and is investigating the contribution of the modified MIF discovered in Dr Dickerhof’s paper to heart disease.

Winning paper reference:

Dickerhof, N., Schindler, L., Bernhagen, J., Kettle, A. J., & Hampton, M. B. (2015). Macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) Is rendered enzymatically inactive by myeloperoxidase-derived oxidants but retains its immunomodulatory function. Free Radical Biology & Medicine, 89, 489-511. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2015.09.009

Learning about science by being part of the experiment

Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Pippa Scott from The Infection Group and her research into staphylococcus aureus transmission was featured in The Press and on on 10 September 2016.

Dr Scott has been studying whether the childrens’ interactions lead to the spread of the disease by tracking each child in the study with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag. The tags do not have GPS or the ability to track locations.

Over the two month study period, Dr Scott swapped the children’s noses several times to check for the staphylococcus bacteria.

The different strains of the bacteria will be genetically analysed and cross-referenced with the data from the RFID tags to see which children had which strain and when.

Dr Scott hopes that the findings of her research will help kids and the rest of the community be safer.

August 2016

Dad’s cancer journey inspires student’s PhD research

Bailey Kennedy
PhD student Bailey Kennedy

Bailey Kennedy from the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group shared with The Press and how her father’s battle with colorectal cancer inspired her to undertake her PhD on the disease.

Her father, Steve Kennedy was diagnosed when Bailey was in her first year at high school. He underwent months of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery before going into remission.

One of her research supervisors was her father’s oncologist.

Bailey’s PhD project involves measuring numbers of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell, in colorectal cancer tumours.

CMRF funding success for the Department

Margaret Currie
Dr Margaret Currie

Department of Pathology researchers received three out of the seven grants awarded in the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation’s latest funding round.

Dr Margaret Currie from the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group received funding for her project on exercise as a cancer therapy.

Dr Andree Pearson from the Centre for Free Radical Research has funding to investigate mitochondria and ageing.

And Dr Anitra Carr from the Centre for Free Radical Research will use her funding for a project on intravenous vitamin C and sever sepsis outcomes.

Geneticist appointed as new HOD of the Department of Pathology

Genetics researcher Professor Martin Kennedy has been appointed as the new Head of the Department of Pathology.

He has worked on the University of Otago, Christchurch campus for nearly 30 years, starting in 1986 after completing his PhD at the University of Auckland, and returning in 1991 after postdoctoral studies at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.

Professor Kennedy says he is very privileged to lead a department filled with so many dedicated and excellent researchers, teachers, students and support staff: “My main goal is to ensure we retain and further develop the wonderful environment we have in the department for research and teaching, to allow our staff and students to reach their full potential.”

Professor Kennedy will replace Professor David Murdoch, who steps down from the Head of Department role on September 1 to become Dean of the Christchurch campus.

Professor Murdoch says his successor is well known in the science community in New Zealand, as he has been a member of many research grant panels and committees.

“I am sure that the Department will continue to succeed and flourish under Martin’s collaborative and inclusive style of management.”

June 2016

Genetics professor awarded HRC project grant

Martin Kennedy
Professor Martin Kennedy

Professor Martin Kennedy from the Gene Structure and Function Laboratory has been awarded a Heath Research Council project grant to clarify how genes contribute to adverse reactions to drugs used in the treatment of common illnesses like hypertension, acid reflux, and depression.

Professor Kennedy’s laboratory, along with Associate Professor Matt Doogue from Clinical Pharmacology, will also develop a biobank to collect and store samples from patients suffering a wide range of serious ADRs, so genetic underpinnings of many such ADRs can be examined.

Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) cause a great deal of illness and death. It is likely many have genetic origins.

May 2016

HOD appointed as new Dean of the Christchurch campus

David Murdoch
Professor David Murdoch

Head of Department Professor David Murdoch has been appointed as the new Dean of the University of Otago, Christchurch. He will replace incumbent Dean, Professor Peter Joyce, who retires in September.

Professor Murdoch says he is honoured to be selected as Dean of the Christchurch campus.

“I have been very proud to work at the University of Otago’s Christchurch health campus for the past 16 years, and excited to become its Dean. We have a real strength in producing health research at the Christchurch campus. A large part of this success is due to collaborations with the Canterbury District Health Board, with its doctors and nurses working closely with scientists on clinical studies. We are also now part of a wider Canterbury health community with the establishment and evolution of the Health Precinct. University of Otago, Christchurch, researchers and teachers collaborate on a global scale. I am keen to grow this global perspective in my time as Dean.”

HRC Emerging Researcher First Grant for infectious diseases Postdoctoral Fellow

Pippa Scott
Dr Pippa Scott

Dr Pippa Scott from The Infection Group has been awarded an Emerging Researcher First Grant from the Health Research Council to investigate the transmission of infectious bacteria between cattle and people in rural communities.

Dr Scott receives $149,982 to identify interventions to control transmission of zoonotic pathogens to humans. Changing farming practices in New Zealand are creating conditions promoting pathogen transfer between species.

The project will examine two zoonotic bacteria will be examined: Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Staphylococcus aureus. STEC causes severe diarrhoea, while S. aureus causes serious skin and bloodstream infections.

PhD student’s discovery becomes front page news

Hannah Kennedy
PhD Student Hannah Kennedy

PhD student Hannah Kennedy from the Molecular Pathology Laboratory has uncovered the underlying genetic cause of the death of two teenage boys in a New Zealand family.

Details of the discovery were featured in a front page story of The Press newspaper and the website on 11 May 2016.

The deaths occurred after ingestion of small volumes of alcohol, with both boys dying in their sleep. The family sensitivity to alcohol was already suspected, as both boys (and their brother and sister) had experienced muscular pain after ingestion of traces of ethanol, as would be found in children’s cough medicine at the time.

After 20 years of searching for a cause, Hannah Kennedy and scientists from Canterbury Health Laboratories (CDHB) identified two mutations, which were responsible for the sudden death of the two boys. These mutations are found in a gene called PPA2, which encodes an enzyme that functions in the mitochondrial respiratory chain, responsible for producing energy in cells.

Both parents are carriers of one of these mutations, meaning they have one copy of the gene which is mutated, and one normal copy. This means they are unaffected, while the children have two mutated copies and the enzyme cannot function normally. PPA2 has not been previously associated with human disease.

Since the identification of this family, an international collaboration has started between the University of Otago, Christchurch, the Canterbury Health Laboratories and several large European Laboratories based in Germany, Austria and the UK. Additional patients have now been identified who also have mutations in PPA2, and mitochondrial disease, with these more severe mutations resulting in death at a much earlier age.

HRC Hercus Fellowship for free radical researcher

Anitra Carr
Dr Anitra Carr

Dr Anitra Carr from the Centre for Free Radical Research has been awarded a $500,000 Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship for promising emerging researchers.

Dr Carr will undertake New Zealand’s first study of vitamin C's potential as a treatment for intensive care patients with sepsis.

She says sepsis is the main cause of death in intensive care patients. Rates are increasing and treatment options for the life-threatening condition are limited. Patients with severe sepsis often develop cardiac dysfunction and dangerously low blood pressure (known as septic shock) and are given drugs to stabilize their cardiovascular function.

Dr Carr will carry out a clinical trial in Christchurch where people with sepsis are given the vitamin to see if this intervention results in a better recovery or survival. She will be trying to find out whether the positive biological effects of vitamin C translate into an improvement in patient outcome, which has been reported in a smaller study overseas. Her study will also involve comparing vitamin C levels with severity of illness and whether this contributes to progression of sepsis.”

April 2016

Will eating cake give me cancer?

Dr Logan Walker in the lab

Dr Logan Walker from the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group spoke at the UOC Public Health Lecture Series on 13 April 2016 at the Rolleston Lecture Theatre.

His talk entitled, Will eating cake give me cancer? highlighted a number of cancer myths, demonstrate how researchers distinguish fact from fiction, and answer questions, including: “If someone in my family has cancer, will I get cancer too?” and “Can cancer be prevented?”

In the lead up to the lecture, Dr Walker was interviewed by Newtalk ZB’s Chris Lynch.

Dr Walker’s lecture will be available to watch online very soon.

Our singing haematologist shaves for a cure

Sean MacPherson with his guitar
Dr Sean MacPherson

Senior Lecturer and Clinical Haematologist Dr Sean MacPherson has written a theme song for the Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand’s Shave for a Cure charity promotion.

TVNZ’s Seven Sharp filmed the recording of the song and the accompanying music video. The item aired on 7 April 2016.

One Health: A global approach to tackling infectious diseases

HOD Professor David Murdoch spoke at the UOC Public Health Lecture Series about the One Health approach to tackling infectious diseases on 6 April 2016 at the Rolleston Lecture Theatre.

One Health recognises the links between humans, other animals and the environment, and is gaining momentum in the fight against infectious diseases.

Professor Murdoch discussed the use of One Health principles - which recognise that the health of humans and animals, and viability of ecosystems are inextricably linked - in addressing important infectious diseases, including neglected infections in developing countries.

Professor Murdoch’s lecture will be available to watch online very soon.

Free Radical Professor’s opinion pieces published in Fairfax papers

Tony Kettle
Prof Tony Kettle

Professor Tony Kettle from the Centre for Free Radical Research has written two opinion pieces about the current state of science funding in New Zealand. They both featured in Fairfax newspapers including The Press and in late March and early April 2016.

The first piece entitled, Bold approach in science sector is essential to boost NZ’s innovation, discusses the impact inadequate investment in science has on the country’s ability to develop an innovative economy.

Professor Kettle points out that success rates for funding from the Health Research Council and the Marsden Fund currently hover below 10 per cent.

In the second piece, The Harvard of agriculture will take Harvard-like funding, Professor Kettle argues that serious money has to be invested into New Zealand universities if we are going to have the agricultural equivalent to Harvard that Prime Minister John Key dreams of.

Both of Professor Kettle’s articles can be read online:

First Department of Pathology Symposium held

Pathology Symposium prize winners April 2016
Dr Nina Dickerhof and Rebekah Crake

Our first departmental symposium included 18 presentations from mostly early career researchers, a potluck dinner and a recycled poster competition.

The presenters could speak on any topic for 10 minutes which created a vary programme including presentations on The secret double life of Haematology Man, What happens when I prick my finger while working in the garden?, Leukaemia and immune responses and Genetic variability in familial breast cancers.

Dr Nina Dickerhof from the Centre for Free Radical Research won the People’s Choice Award for the best presentation. Her talk was entitled The science of mountaineering.

PhD Rebekah Crake from the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group was awarded the Best Recycled Poster.

The symposium also featured a quiz about the presenters and this was won by HOD Professor David Murdoch.

Plans are already underway for the next one which will be held in November.

March 2016

Power of vitamin C

Professor Margreet Vissers and her vitamin C and cancer research featured in the March 2016 edition of Otago Magazine.

Professer Vissers and her team in the Centre for Free Radical Research are about to begin the first study in people that investigates the effect of intravenous vitamin C treatment on tumour biology. This study will help determine a mechanism of action and has been made possible by the generous donations of many private donors.

“Many of those who have donated are affected by cancer, either themselves or someone close to them. They want information. They may have asked ‘would taking vitamin C be good for me or my loved one?’ and found there are no good answers to that question.’’

The study will be of twelve patients with colorectal cancer and each will either get four daily injections of vitamin C or a placebo. Intravenous injection is the most commonly used method in “alternative” medicine and may result in better access for ascorbate into the difficult-to-access tumour environment.

“The patient will receive the vitamin C treatment prior to surgery. We will analyse tissue taken before and after vitamin C treatment to determine what the intervention has done – if anything – and if it affects any of the biological processes we know encourage tumour growth,’’ Professor Vissers says.

Notable entry for administrator in the Otago Staff Photo Competition

Photo by Alice Milnes

A photo of Lagavulin Distillery on Islay in Scotland with a rainbow behind has won Teaching Administrator Alice Milnes a notable entry in the annual University of Otago Staff Photo Competition.

Alice took the photo on the first night of her trip around the Scottish highlands and isles in June last year. 

In 2015, the photo competition was won by Pathology Postdoctoral Fellow Markus Dagnell who is based in the Centre for Free Radical Research.

February 2016

Teaching Gold Medal for Anatomical Pathology Convener

Andrew Miller
Dr Andrew Miller

Dr Andrew Miller was awarded a UOC Gold Medal for Excellence in Teaching at the Academic Welcome on 12 February 2016.

The criteria for the School's top teaching award is sustained, outstanding, excellent contribution to teaching.

Andrew is the convener for our Anatomical Pathology undergraduate teaching programme. Over the years he has developed the combined Anatomical Pathology-Radiology tutorials for the fourth year medical students with Dr Mike Hurrell from Radiology. Mike was also the recipient of a Teaching Gold Medal.

At the ceremony UOC Teaching Awards were given to Professor Margreet Vissers (Centre for Free Radical Research) and Dr Anja Werno (Microbiology/The Infection Group).

January 2016

Cancer genetics researcher on One News

Logan Walker
Dr Logan Walker

Dr Logan Walker from the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group featured in an item about access to genetic testing on TVNZ's One News on Sunday 17 January 2016.

The item discussed how genetic screening in New Zealand for breast cancer indicator genes BRCA 1 and 2 has limited eligibility, leading to concerns over the restrictions.

Dr Walker is one of the scientists currently studying how to make the genetic screening programme more effective.