Dr Mona Elbalshy and Sarah (left) and Ann Dennison (right) at the awards ceremony.
Receiving two Freemasons study awards on the same day was a real surprise for University of Otago Department of Paediatrics and Child Health researcher Dr Mona Elbalshy.
On Tuesday 6 October Dr Elbalshy was presented with a $60,000 fellowship, plus an unexpected additional $5000 scholarship in the name of former Otago University Research Fellow and Otago Masonic Charitable Trust Chairman John Dennison.
Mr Dennison's widow Ann and daughter Sarah attended the awards ceremony at the Otago Medical School. Mr Dennison, who passed away in April, studied at Otago and began work at the University as a laboratory assistant in 1973. He gained an MSc in Anatomy in 1988 and went on to spend most of his working life at the University teaching Anatomy and Structural Biology.
Freemasons New Zealand Grand Master Graham Wrigley says the Freemasons have spent 32 years supporting research at the University's Department of Paediatrics and Child Health.
“More than 30 fellowships have been awarded over the years and many recipients have gone on to make outstanding contributions to research in child healthcare, and many are working overseas in quite distinguished environments.
“I am proud to announce a new award in the name of John Dennison, who was a leader in his field both as a Freemason and a researcher at the University of Otago.”
The fellowship audience at the awards ceremony at the Barnett Lecture Theatre.
Mr Wrigley sometimes asks if people want to know “the secrets” about Freemasonry. “I tell them the answer is that we assist the University of Auckland's research into brain diseases, we provide funding for the Malaghan Institute in Wellington for cancer research and we provide research fellowships in Paediatrics at the University of Otago. They usually don't ask any questions after that.”
He says that every year it is estimated that Freemasons contribute more than $11 million to New Zealand community projects. “It's not about us as Freemasons it's all about what we do in the community.”
Mr Wrigley says the Freemasons will also fund $5,000 for summer research internships at each of Otago Medical School's campuses in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin as a one-off for this year only.
Fellowship recipient Dr Elbalshy is carrying out research into making glucose monitoring for children with Type 1 diabetes much cheaper and more easily obtainable.
“We have the unit that best measures child health in New Zealand. It is so important to focus on the first thousand days after birth, as that's so vital to your trajectory in life. I want to thank the Freemasons for their major contribution to child healthcare for over 30 years."
“I aim to help reduce the long-term financial burden of this disease and help children have as normal a life as possible.”
Dr Elbalshy says she only found out just before the presentations that she had received the John Dennison Scholarship. Her research aims to replace expensive commercial continuous glucose monitoring of type 1 diabetes with a new DIY technology. Commercial monitoring equipment usually costs around $7,000 per child per year, whereas the DIY monitoring she proposes will cost around $300 as a one-off upfront payment, plus the price of the sensor.
“My research aims to reduce the inequity out there in the community.” Dr Elbalshy also hopes that Pharmac will sponsor the sensor needed in her DIY model.
Dr Elbalshy grew up in Egypt and as a child was fascinated with the amazing history of her home country. She undertook her primary medical qualification and a master's degree at Benha University, Egypt. After completing her advanced training in endocrinology, she worked as a registrar at Benha University Hospital for six years before moving to New Zealand.
Before starting her doctoral studies at Otago, she completed a graduate diploma in Human Nutrition and then undertook a Master of Science looking at how the processing of cereals affects the level of blood glucose in patients with diabetes.
Freemasons Deputy Grand Master Jim Watt told the ceremony that every year Freemasons fund 28 scholarships for students at universities around New Zealand.
Otago Medical School Dean Professor Rathan Subramaniam says we must celebrate the valuable contribution that the fellowships have made to the New Zealand academic community.
“Otago Medical School is truly grateful for this contribution. It's enthralling to see the last 10 years recipients' achievements.”
Former Dean Professor Barry Taylor says the Freemasons fellowships have contributed enormously to child health in New Zealand since they began in 1988.
“We have the unit that best measures child health in New Zealand. It is so important to focus on the first thousand days after birth, as that's so vital to your trajectory in life.
“I want to thank the Freemasons for their major contribution to child healthcare for over 30 years,” Professor Taylor says.