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Clocktower clockTuesday 8 December 2015 12:22pm

Tania Slatter image
Dr Tania Slatter

A University of Otago brain cancer researcher has gained a prestigious Sir Charles Hercus fellowship in the Health Research Council's (HRC) latest Career Development Awards.

Dr Tania Slatter (Pathology) will use her four-year $500,000 fellowship to pursue research into improving outcomes for patients with brain tumours.

HRC Clinical Research Training Fellowships went to three health professionals to undertake postgraduate study at Otago, along with a Foxley Fellowship for a Dunedin general practitioner to take a research sabbatical.

HRC Pacific summer studentships were awarded to 18 Pacific students at Otago seeking to develop research skills with supervision and guidance from experienced senior researchers.

An HRC Pacific Master's scholarship and an HRC Pacific postdoctoral fellowship were also awarded at Otago.

Otago's HRC Career Development Award recipients:

Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship

Dr Tania Slatter (Pathology)
Predicting brain tumour prognosis from cell immortality pathways
High-grade brain tumours are largely incurable. They arise in the brain, or start elsewhere and metastasize to the brain. Despite most people having a poor prognosis, some individuals live considerably longer. To improve the outcome for all individuals, my research centres on finding prognostic markers that can predict, when the tumour is first diagnosed, how a tumour will develop. The aim of this study is to find genetic markers that will identify patients at risk of developing metastases in the brain, and for those that have primary brain tumours to find markers that predict survival, the rate of tumour progression, and response to treatment. This research uses novel categorisation of brain tumours into distinct groups based on two key cancer promoting pathways (telomere maintenance and p53 deregulation), which will form the basis for better understanding survival variation to identify informative markers.

Clinical Research Training Fellowships

Dr Brian Corley (University of Otago, Wellington)
Gut peptides post bariatric surgery: Mechanisms of adaptive metabolism, 24 months, $167,000
Obesity is now a problem of epidemic proportions within New Zealand. Gastric bypass surgery is well established as a treatment that provides sustained weight loss, remission of diabetes and improvements in cardiovascular risk at five years and later post surgery. Changes in gut metabolism play a key role in the immediate post-operative period. Studying post-surgical patients several years after their gastric bypass would yield important information on the long-term effects of gastric bypass on gut metabolism, and other clinical outcomes associated with obesity such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and overall mortality. It will contribute to understanding the magnitude and mechanism of these effects as well as the financial implications of gastric bypass surgery within the New Zealand healthcare system.

Dr Sarah Donald (University of Otago Dunedin School of Medicine)
Prescription medicine use in pregnancy, 36 months, $250,000
For many medicines, safety information regarding use in pregnant women is lacking but their use during pregnancy has increased considerably in recent decades. A substantial proportion of pregnant women overseas, in particular women of lower socioeconomic status, take prescribed drugs during pregnancy. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, widely used in New Zealand, have been associated with several adverse foetal outcomes. Selective serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may be less risky in pregnancy but evidence is limited.

This study has three aims. First, the overall patterns of dispensing for pregnant women in New Zealand will be described, with specific consideration of several medicines known to cause foetal harm. Second, the patterns of SSRI/SNRI use during pregnancy and adverse foetal and maternal outcomes will be investigated. Third, the effectiveness of undertaking studies of drug safety in pregnancy by linking the National Maternity Collection with other national datasets will be assessed.

Dr Patricia Whitfield (University of Otago, Wellington)
Ethnic differences in energy metabolism among New Zealanders, 36 months, $250,000
Obesity is predicted to be the leading cause of health loss in New Zealand by 2016. According to recent Ministry of Health data, almost one in three adult New Zealanders are obese, however rates are closer to 49 per cent for Maori and 68 per cent for Pacific adults. It is increasingly evident that body weight is actively regulated by complex interactions between genetic, metabolic and neural mechanisms that favour energy conservation, and these are likely to differ between ethnicities. Little is known about the ethnic differences in energy expenditure in the New Zealand setting. This research aims to assess the differences in energy expenditure in the major New Zealand ethnic groups. This will then pave the way for research into the most effective obesity interventions for each ethnic group, allowing for a 'personalised' approach to obesity management that is ethnic-sensitive and thus potentially more effective.

2016 HRC Foxley Fellowship

Dr Carol Atmore (University of Otago)
Exploring and improving hospital care quality for New Zealand rural communities, 24 months, $222,000

I have been a general practitioner for 20 years, holding senior health leadership and system redesign roles since 2004. I have an MSc in Public Health. I want to redirect my efforts towards research to effect health system change.

My research aims to understand and improve the quality of health care for people from rural communities. Through secondary analysis of Professor Susan Dovey's HRC project 14/185 data, I will investigate differences in patient harms for people from rural and urban communities who receive hospital services. I will interview rural health providers, iwi and community groups to investigate what contributes to high quality hospital services, and how service design influences quality. I will identify actions that can improve the quality of hospital care received by rural communities. I will share my findings with rural health care planners, funders, providers, iwi and communities to inform future rural health service redesign.

HRC Pacific summer studentships ($5000 over 10 weeks)

Ms Melbournemockba Coudetalei Mauiliu
Interpreting reported lived experiences of injured Pacific women in New Zealand

Miss Damaris Dekker
Preventable illness in Pacific children and infants

Mr David Nair
Alcohol consumption and behaviours of Pacific youth

Miss Kaylarina Fuatai
Rheumatic fever injection compliance rates in Samoa

Miss Hilla Fukofuka
Associations between mental wellbeing and diabetes biomarkers in Pasifika youth

Mr Ryder Fuimaono
Samoan patients' pathways to renal services – A paired case study

Mr Troy Ruhe
Pacific people's falls prevention research

Mr Zebulun Laqekoro
Pacific young people's perspective of oral health and oral health care

Miss Brogan Maoate
Patterns of nutritional behaviour among a Pacific Christchurch cohort

Mr Jonathan Feki
Spiritual care and kidney disease in New Zealand: Perspective of the patient

Miss Eirenei Tauai
Does language have a positive impact on the prevalence of mental health

Miss Tapuaki Vehikite
Anti-fibrotic effect of remote ischemic preconditioning on the diabetic heart

Ms Ulalei Aiono
Pacific people's opinions about prescription charges

Miss Theresa Fitzpatrick
Suitability of a low carb, high fat diet amongst Pasifika peoples

Mr James Devoe
Vulnerable at-risk unborn babies at Counties Manukau Health, Auckland

Miss Nina Maifea
Rethink: factors influencing student's life-work balance decision

Miss Fuakava Tanginoa
Ethical issues in sexuality education – an exploration of Pacific approaches

Mr Adaab Azam
The relationship between multimorbidity and polypharmacy

HRC Pacific Master's scholarship

Mrs Acelini Hakopa
Pacific people's experience of mental disorder and mental health services
12 months, $20,104

HRC Pacific postdoctoral fellowship

Dr Ramona Tiatia
App for Houses and Households (A4HH)
48 months, $105,900

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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