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Pulse 45: July / August 2014

Monday, 25 August 2014

PVC welcome

Peter Crampton, PVC Health Sciences
Professor Peter Crampton

Kia ora koutou kātoa

Welcome to this edition of Pulse.

I would like to warmly welcome Vernon Ward to his new role as Dean of the Otago School of Medical Sciences. Vernon brings with him a wealth of knowledge, a distinguished research career, and considerable leadership skills, all of which will help to ensure that the School continues to grow and prosper.

My sincere thanks to Pat Cragg for her fine stewardship of the School during 2014 in an Acting Dean capacity.

I would also like to warmly welcome Kiki Maoate to his role as Associate Dean, Pacific at the University of Otago, Christchurch.

Congratulations to Greg Cook on being awarded the Distinguished Research Medal for 2014. Greg is an outstanding researcher with a very strong international profile, and is a worthy recipient of this award.

Congratulations also to Professor Parry Guilford who has been presented with the prestigious Beaven Medal from the Health Research Council, and to Peter Dearden who was awarded the Genetics Society of Australasia’s Ross Crozier Medal.

Our early-career researchers have also been recognised with both Peter Fineran and Haxby Abbott awarded with the Carl Smith Medal and Rowheath Trust Award.

Other successes include those staff who have received funding in recent rounds including the Neurological Foundation, Otago Medical Research Foundation, and the National Heart Foundation. 

The Divisional Research Forum—Learning Different Research Languages—will be held on 16 September at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery from 8.30am. I look forward to seeing you there.

Peter Crampton
Professor Peter Crampton
Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Division of Health Sciences,

General news

Vernon Ward thumb
Professor Vernon Ward

OSMS Dean appointment

Congratulations to Professor Vernon Ward on his appointment as Dean of the Otago School of Medical Sciences.  Vernon is currently the Head of Department, Microbiology and Immunology and will take up his new position on 1 October 2014. 
University of Otago press release.
Otago Daily Times article.

Distinguished Research Medal

Prof Greg Cook thumbnail
Professor Greg Cook

Congratulations to Professor Greg Cook (Microbiology and Immunology, OSMS) who 2014's recipient of the University's highest research honour, the Distinguished Research Medal.  The Medal is awarded for outstanding scholarly achievement, including the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge, the development of innovative technology, or the development of concepts that lead to significant advances.  Greg's research into bacterial physiology, and his international standing in this area make him a very worthy recipient of the Distinguished Research Medal.
University of Otago press release.
Otago Daily Times article.

Carl Smith Medal and Rowheath Trust Award

Dr Peter Fineran & Associate Professor Haxby Abbott

Congratulations to Dr Peter Fineran (Microbiology and Immunology, OSMS) and Associate Professor Haxby Abbott (Surgical Sciences, DSM) who were awarded the University's Carl Smith Medal and Rowheath Trust Award for outstanding research performance of early-career staff.  Both researchers will receive $5000 for their own scholarly development.
University of Otago press release.
Otago Daily Times article.

Beaven Medal

Parry Guilford IPL thumb
Professor Parry Guilford

Congratulations to Professor Parry Guilford (Biochemistry, oSMS) who was presented with the prestigious HRC Beaven Medal at a special ceremony in Queenstown.  The Beaven Medal recognises translating research into clinical practice and so acknowledges Parry's internationally-renowned research into stomach cancer which has saved many lives in New Zealand and around the world. The award also recognises his development of a urine bladder cancer test (CxBladder).
Otago Daily Times article.
HRC press release.
Otago Bulletin.

Departmental news


Staff successes

John Reynolds group
L to R Dr Joanna Williams, A/P John Reynolds, Dr Ping Liu, Dr Andrew Clarkson, Dr Louise Parr-Brownlie

Congratulations to Associate Professor John Reynolds, Dr Joanna Williams, Professor Ian McLennan, Dr Ping Liu, Dr Andrew Clarkson and Dr Louise Parr-Brownlie will play key research roles in the newly established Brain Research New Zealand (Rangahau Roro Aotearoa) Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE). The CoRE will be co-hosted by the University of Otago and the University of Auckland, and brings together New Zealand's top neuroscience researchers and clinicians from the Otago and Auckland Universities as well as AUT University and the NZ Brain Research Institute in Christchurch. The key focus of the CoRE will be on health and disease of the aging brain, and developing new therapies and better clinical and community care to enhance brain health.

Congratulations to the following staff on their recent Neurological Foundation Grant successes:

  • Dr Beulah Leitch, in collaboration with Professor Erin Schuman, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research (MPIBR), Frankfurt Germany, aims to develop and apply new technology to visualise newly synthesised proteins at synapses in the brain using high resolution electron microscopy.
  • Using a model of Parkinson's disease, Dr Parr-Brownlie will combine gene therapy and electron microscopy to identify the anatomical characteristics of the connection between the basal ganglia and motor thalamus in healthy brains, and investigate changes that occur in this region in parkinsonian brains.
  • Dr Liu will investigate how the metabolism of L-arginine changes in schizophrenic brains and the processes involved that lead to prolonged behavioural and neurochemical changes.

Wairau visit

Associate Professor Hallie Buckley and Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith, along with Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Richard Blaikie, and Professor Richard Walter (Anthropology and Archaeology) were honoured to be the invited guests of the Rangitane o Wairau at a recent Hui in Blenheim. The Hui discussed research findings on the Wairau Bar archaeological site. Wairau Bar is an extremely important early Māori settlement which contained the burials of 42 individuals excavated in the mid 20th century.

Student successes

Congratulations to the following students on their recent successes:

  • Gail Elliot, a PhD student in Biological Anthropology, has recently been offered a prestigious Visiting Scientist internship at the Forensic Anthropology Unit at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York.
  • Megan Elder
    Megan Elder and Dr Joanna Williams

    PhD candidate Megan Elder who has received a Scholarship from DAAD to study for three months in Germany. Megan will be studying at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt under the direction of Professor Erin Schuman, one of the leading experts in neuronal protein synthesis. The Schuman lab is one of only two labs in the world that are using FUNCAT, a groundbreaking method of visualizing newly synthesized protein. Megan will spend her time in Frankfurt learning this new technique.


Congratulations to Associate Professor Peter Dearden who was awarded the Genetics Society of Australasia’s Ross Crozier Medal for outstanding contributions to Genetics.

Congratulations to Professor Parry Guilford on receiving nearly $200,000 from the Breast Cancer Research Fellowship, and to Professor Iain Lamont on his success (almost $20,000) in the OMRF round.

Dunedin School of Medicine

Tim Stokes thumb
Professor Tim Stokes

The Department of General Practice and Rural Health is pleased to welcome Professor Tim Stokes to the Elaine Gurr Chair of General Practice. Professor Stokes previously worked as a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham and his research looks into health care quality improvement.
University of Otago press release.
Otago Daily Times article.


OMRF success

Congratulations to Dr Robin Simmonds and Dr Heather Brooks, who have been funded for a joint project with Professor Kelly Doran from San Diego State University on the role of a bacteriocin-like inhibitory substance in the pathogenicity of group B streptococci. Dr Jo Kirman will conduct research on Deciphering the memory T cell response to tuberculosis (TB).

Cook Lab’s mycobacteria metabolism discovery published in PNAS

A team led by Professor Greg Cook has published findings in the prestigious US journal PNAS that help to explain why mycobacteria are so hardy.

In collaboration with researchers in the US and Germany, the Microbiology and Immunology scientists have shown that hydrogen is a key factor that enables the aerobic soil microbe Mycobacterium smegmatis to persist for extreme lengths of time in the absence, or near-absence, of oxygen. The discovery could offer new hope for developing a revolutionary class of antibiotics to tackle TB.
University of Otago press release.
Otago Daily Times article.
Read the paper.

Pharmacology and Toxicology

Staff successes

Congratulations to the following staff:

  • Dr John Ashton and Associate Professor Rhonda J Rosengren were successful with their Otago Medical Research Foundation funding application for the project Synergy in cytotoxic and targeted drug combinations for ALK+ lung cancer.
  • Dr Greg Giles was awarded a Division of Health Sciences Research Technology Voucher in August 2014 to increase access to resources for his lab.
  • Dr Yiwen Zheng was successful with her 2014 Bequest Fund application for the project Role of pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus in mediating vestibular information to the hippocampus.

Student success

Congratulations to PhD student Sweta Kumari (Supervisor Dr Greg Giles) who was awarded Best Poster at the Oxygen Theme Meeting that was held in Christchurch in July.

Internationalisation of the Curriculum

Professor Chris Bradfield visited the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology from 14-21 July 2014 to establish further collaboration between the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Centre/McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research (University of Wisconsin) and the University of Otago. The primary reason for his visit was to develop a collaborative strategy for e-teaching for toxicology courses. While Professor Bradfield was here, he spent a day with the Biochemistry Department, establishing links with many researchers. He also presented a seminar on Dioxin, clocks and oxygen : Prototype signals of the PAS family of environmental sensors.


CNE hosts a 6-day workshop for neuroendocrinologists

Professor Allan Herbison from the Department of Physiology and Centre for Neuroendocrinology (CNE) organised a workshop in August “Techniques in Neuroendocrine Research” for 30 early-career neuroendocrinologists from around the world. Members of the CNE delivered a series of technical lectures, and throughout the week participants also attended a series of plenary lectures delivered by internationally-renowed neuroendocrine researchers. Otago was selected to host the workshop by the International Neuroendocrine Federation, and the course was also supported by the International Brain Research Organisation.
Otago Bulletin.

Staff successes

Congratulations to the following staff:

  • Dr Pete Jones (with co-applicant Dr Jeff Erickson) was awarded $147,004 for his project “Novel Mechanisms for the Regulation of Cardiac Ca2+-Release Channel (RyR2) Activity in Models of Cellular Stress”, and Dr Rajesh Katare (with co-applicants Drs Pete Jones, Regis Lamberts & Daryl Schwenke) was awarded $110,020 for his project "Genetic engineering of cardiac stem cells for the therapeutic regeneration of the diabetic heart". Both projects received funding from the National Heart Foundation of NZ Project Grants fund.
  • Dr Su Young Han, Postdoctoral Fellow from the Department of Physiology, who was awarded 1st prize at the Otago Medical School Research Society (OMSRS) Research Staff Speaker Awards on 9th July.
  • Professor Alison Heather for being awarded an OMRF grant for her project “Defining estradiol’s bad effects on atherosclerosis: targeting safe HRT for women”.
  • Professor Alison Heather, Dr Rajesh Katare and Associate Professor Phil Sheard for being awarded OSMS Dean’s Bequest funding.
  • Helen Waddell (Research Assistant) and Rosalind Cook (PhD student) were interviewed by the NZ Herald regarding the department’s jellybean experiment as part of the International Science Festival recently.
    NZ Herald article.

University of Otago, Christchurch

The School recently welcomed Dr Kiki Maoate into the role of Associate Dean, Pacific.

Dr Maoate is the first appointment to the role, which was established to give priority to Pacific Island issues in the University’s teaching, research and links with community.

Dr Maoate has worked his entire career as a specialist paediatric surgeon in Christchurch. He is a University of Otago medical graduate, who was born in the Cook Islands. He will continue his paediatric surgery work along with the Associate Dean role.
University of Otago, Christchurch press release.

Other news

Health Sciences Annual Research Forum - Learning Different Research Languages

The forum will be held on Tuesday 16 September, 8.30am - 5.00pm at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

Speakers feature some of our top mid-career researchers including a Rutherford Fellow, winners of the L'Oréal Women in Science Award and Otago Early Career Awards as well as CoRE and National Science Challenge Principal Investigators.

Registrations close August 31 at

Read more about the forum.

Pharmacoepidemiology Methods Workshop

Thursday 27 November, 9.00am - 4.30pm in the Adams Building

Presenter: M. Alan Brookhart, PhD
Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public Health Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine
University of North Carolina
The workshop will provide an intensive one-day introduction to the field of pharmacoepidemiological methods. It will consider in particular the growing availability of large healthcare databases, and that non-experimental studies of prescription medicines are becoming increasingly common. However, appropriate design and analysis of such studies can be challenging.

For more information please email

Gut Health Network Meeting

Tuesday 25 November from 12.00pm at SkyCity in Auckland.

An invitation is extended to those who would like to attend the inaugural scientific meeting of the GutHealthNetwork in collaboration with the Annual Meeting of the New Zealand Society of Gastroenterology.  Professor Charles MacKay, immunologist from Monash University and Professor Gerald Tannock, microbiologist and James Cook Fellow from the University of Otago are plenary speakers.

Registration to the scientific meeting is free but a registration fee applies if you stay for the whole NZSG meeting (
Registration is complimentary but please RSVP to Jan Kettink for catering purposes.