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Pulse 46: September / October 2014

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

PVC welcome

Peter Crampton, PVC Health Sciences
Professor Peter Crampton

Kia ora koutou kātoa.

Welcome to this edition of Pulse.

The academic year is progressing. Our students are busy sitting exams and our staff in the marking of those exams.

The Division warmly welcomes Dr Louise Bicknell and Dr Michael Knapp who have been awarded Rutherford Discovery Fellowships. Dr Bicknell returns from Scotland to the Department of Pathology, and Dr Knapp returns from Wales to the Department of Anatomy.

Congratulations to Professor Catherine Day who has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, and to Faumuina Dr Faafetai Sopoaga who has been bestowed with the high chief title "Faumuina".

Congratulations also to staff who have been recognised by students for the excellence of their teaching. The annual Dunedin School of Medicine teaching awards recgonised a number of staff, and the OUMSA once again voted Dr Heather Brooks as Best Lecturer for 2014. Heather has won this award six years in a row.

The Divisional Research Forum at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery was a very successful event and showcased the excellent research the Division’s mid-career researchers are undertaking. Thanks to Drs Michele Coleman and Kerry Galvin for the smooth organisation and delivery of the event.

Graduation ceremonies begin in a month’s time. Many thanks to staff for supporting our students with attendance at graduation ceremonies and celebrations.

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

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General news

Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand

Catherine Day copy
Professor Catherine Day

Congratulations to Professor Catherine Day (Department of Biochemistry) who has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. Catherine's election as a Fellow is recognition of her excellence in research, in particular the advances she has made in understanding protein interactions that occur in programmed cell death and survival which are critical in normal human development and cancer.
University of Otago press release.
Otago Daily Times article.

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Honour bestowed

Faumuina Dr Faafetai Sopoaga

Congratulations to Faumuina Dr Faafetai Sopoaga who has recently been bestowed with the high chief title "Faumuina".  The title name was decided by the Paramount Chief of her mother's family.  One of Tai's brothers accepted the honour on her behalf at a ceremony which was attended by all the members of the council of chiefs from the district.

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Rutherford Discovery Fellowships

Congratulations to Dr Louise Bicknell and Dr Michael Knapp on being awarded Rutherford Discovery Fellowships which will see them return to the University of Otago.  Dr Bicknell will be based in the Department of Pathology, DSM and Dr Knapp in the Department of Anatomy, OSMS.
University of Otago Bulletin press release.
Otago Daily Times article.

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UN Small Islands Developing States forum

PC & TS Samoa
Peter Crampton and Tai Sopoaga in Samoa.

Professor Peter Crampton and Dr Tai Sopoaga were invited to attend the National University of Samoa panel during the UN Small Islands Developing States forum (1-4 September 2014), side event.  Their attendance was in response to a request from Samoa for support in the development of its medical school.

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Health inequalities in spotlight

Shiriki EDOR seated group
From left: Professor Shiriki Kumanyika, Mark Brunton, Dr Rachel McLean, Professor Jim Mann, Associate Professor Rachael Taylor, Associate Professor Sheila Williams, Dr Lisa Te Morenga.

Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research (EDOR) was delighted to host distinguished international obesity researcher, Professor Emerita Shiriki Kumanyika, in Dunedin. Shiriki, who is President-elect of the American Public Health Association, presented a public lecture, and attended a health inequalities workshop.

Mark Brunton and Nga Maramara-Hinamoki Rewi Kapa Haka group warmly welcomed Shiriki and participants to the public lecture at Dunedin Public Art Gallery with korero, waiata, poi, and taiaha.

Shiriki presented her work, and recommendations, based on extensive analysis of obesity, diabetes, nutrition, and physical activity studies with African American participants.

The following day Shiriki joined emerging and established researchers for a workshop on research being undertaken at Otago to reduce health inequalities in New Zealand, where Associate Professor Jo Baxter, Associate Dean Māori, welcomed Shiriki and participants with a mihi whakatau.

At the conclusion of the day members of the Pacific Island Health Professionals Students’ Association performed for Shiriki, and presented a gift.

Read more about EDOR activities at

Read more about Professor Kumanyika's welcome.
Listen to Professor's Kumanyika's public lecture.
Read more about the workshop programme.

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Departmental news


The Department farewelled Tony Reeve at a dinner in the Staff Club on the 27th September. It was a most enjoyable evening, with speeches from previous HODs Merv Smith and Warren Tate, and also from Parry Guilford, Anita Dunbier, Mik Black, and the man himself.

Congratulations to Chris Harris and Monica Sharma for being winner and runner-up respectively in the OMSRS 2014 Student Science Writing Competition. Chris’s prizewinning essay was later published in the ODT (25.9.14), along with a story about him and Monica.

Congratulations also to Nicole Neverman on being runner-up in the OMSRS PhD Student Speaker Competition.

Our staff in the news:
Otto Hyink and his beekeeping on 27th September, and Miriam Sharpe and her work on firefly squid on the 12th October. Both appeared in the Otago Daily Times.

Catherine Day and Adam Middleton featured on Our Changing World on the 25th September.
Read and hear the article at Radio NZ. 

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Dunedin School of Medicine

Teaching Awards

Dave Gerrard and Gerald Wilkins
Gerry Wilkins and David Gerrard

The School presented its annual teaching awards on 15 October.  The awards are recognition of the contribution staff make in clinical teaching and are judged solely on student votes.  This year the awards were presented by Professor David Gerrard. Congratulations to the following:

Certificate for the Trainee Intern who has shown commitment and aptitude for teaching
Clement Tan

Commendation to Trainee Intern
Michael Knight

Certificate to House Officer (note new standard title for DHB) who has shown commitment and Quality in Teaching
Keith Lee
Justus Pienaar
Reshma Shettigar

Commendation to House Officer
Peter McLeod
Jeremy Yap

Certificate to Registrar who has shown commitment and Quality in Teaching
Sarah Gleeson

Commendation to Registrar
Mohammad Amer
Sudish Lal
Heath Lash
Delia Smith

Dean’s Commendation to Invercargill Teaching Staff
Dr V Sotutu

Certificate to the Nursing Team who has provided the Best learning environment for medical students
Oncology Nursing Team Ward 8C Jane McColm

Commendation to Senior Staff for Teaching
Gerry Wilkins Commendation

Senior Staff Award for Quality in Teaching
Celia Devenish

Otago Bulletin article.
Otago Daily Times article.

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Faculty of Medicine

Special Contribution to ELM teaching

Congratulations to Associate Professor Greg Jones who has been awarded with the Faculty of Medicine Award for Special Contribution to ELM in recognition of his innovation and leadership of the Cardiovascular Block Module.  During his five years as convenor Greg has shown not only exemplary leadership but also a willingness to develop, trial and evaluate new delivery styles.

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Microbiology and Immunology

New Head of Department

Professor Clive Ronson took up the role of Head of Department of Microbiology and Immunology on 1 October. He has replaced Professor Vernon Ward, who has taken up the position of Dean of the Otago School of Medical Sciences.
Read the article on the Microbiology and Immunology website.

OUMSA teaching awards

Dr Heather Brooks received two accolades in this year’s Otago University Medical Students’ Association (OUMSA) Teaching Excellence Awards, being named 'best lecturer' by both second and third-year students. This is the sixth year in a row that she has received the award for the second-year programme and one of several years that she has received both awards, recognising her ongoing commitment to quality teaching.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment funding

Professor Gearald Tannock has received $1,000,000 in funding over two years to develop products for infant formula that closely simulate the action of Human Milk Oligosaccharides, boosting the abundance of bifidobacteria in the gut.

It is one of six innovative University of Otago-led projects being supported through the ‘health and society’, ‘high-value manufacturing and services’, and ‘biological industries’ funds administered by MBIE.
University of Otago press release.

Nuffield fellowship to Oxford University

Congratulations to PhD student Andrew Highton who received a prestigious Nuffield fellowship to Oxford University. The Nuffield Dominions Trust at Oxford awards this post-doctoral fellowship every two years to one New Zealander, either a clinician or a scientist. Andrew will relocate to England next year to continue his research in immunology.
University of Otago press release.

Our staff in the news

The work of Professor Frank Griffin and the Disease Research Lab (DRL) has been profiled recently in three farming publications: Farmer’s Weekly, Country-Wide magazine and Dairy Export News.
Read the article on the Farmer’s Weekly website.
Read the article on the Country-Wide website.

Last month Dr Michelle McConnell featured on Our Changing World, Radio New Zealand’s science programme, in a story covering a collaborative project with the Department of Pharmacy that is exploring the use of wine industry waste products for medical dressings and meat wraps.
Listen to the broadcast on the Radio New Zealand website.
Read more about the research in the University of Otago magazine.

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Otago School of Medical Sciences

The School is pleased to announce the appointment of two new Heads of Department; Professor Clive Ronson (HOD Microbiology and Immunology) and Professor Catherine Day (HOD Biochemistry).

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Pharmacology and Toxicology

Staff Achievements

Dr Khaled Greish received news of his promotion, effective from 1 February 2015.

Associate Professor Rhonda J Rosengren and Dr Khaled Greish contributed to the article Future proof: Improving the odds for the next generation of breast cancer survivors, that is highlighted in the latest issue (November 2014) of Next magazine.

Funding successes

Dr Yiwen Zheng received a 2-year Deafness Research Foundation grant for her project Do time-dependent changes in neurotransmission in the dorsal cochlear nucleus trigger acoustic trauma-induced tinnitus?

She also received a 1-year CoRE Brain Research New Zealand grant for her project Pairing nucleus accumbens stimulation with tones to treat tinnitus. This project is being run in conjunction with Associate Professor John Reynolds (Anatomy), Professor Dirk De Ridder (Dunedin School of Medicine), Professor Paul Smith (Pharmacology & Toxicology), Professor Peter Thorne (University of Auckland)

University of Otago Research grants were received for:

  • Dr Greg Giles for his project Nanostring gene expression profiling to detect tDodSNO effects on cancer cells.
  • Professor Paul Smith for his project Vestibular contributions to the basal ganglia and Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Dr Yiwen Zheng for her project The role of the nucleus accumbens in the conscious perception of tinnitus.

Department Open Day

An inaugural Department Open Day was held on Wednesday 17 September. The focus of the day was our cancer research groups, and we were delighted that the Cancer Society was enthusiastic about being involved with the day. The programme comprised five brief plain English presentations by our cancer researchers with this being broken up with a 45-minute laboratory rotation tour around the department. The symposium finished with a panel debate; an open question and answer session from the audience to our panel of research experts. There were approximately 50 members of the public, including senior staff of the Cancer Society, who attended. The event was rounded off with nibbles and the opportunity for attendees to informally chat with both staff and students.

The event was a success, with staff and postgraduate students taking an active role in preparing, presenting, acting as tour guides, ensuring that items of interest were happening in the laboratories, to catering and mingling with people who expressed much interest in the event and the topics.

While the focus of this day was cancer, there are plans to run the event regularly, showcasing other research groups in our department and their interests.

Student Achievements

  • PhD students Shane Hellyer (supervisor Associate Professor Steve Kerr) and Morgayn Read (supervisor Dr Ivan Sammut) submitted their theses in September.
  • Master's student Rebecca Millen (supervisor Dr Ivan Sammut) submitted her thesis in September.
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Success at Queenstown Research Week

Three of our PhD students were awarded prizes at Queenstown Research Week in August:

  • Aleisha Moore won the Physiological Society of NZ (PSNZ) John Hubbard Memorial Prize for Excellence in Studies towards a PhD;
  • Parul Dixit won the PSNZ Poster Prize for Best Student Poster Presentation; and
  • Emmet Power won the Goddard Oral Prize for best oral presentation by a student.

Department of Physiology welcomes two neuroscientists

Two academics started in the Department on 1st October – Dr Alex Tups (Senior Lecturer) and Dr Karl Iremonger (Lecturer). Alex joins us from the Philipps University of Marburg, Germany. His current research focuses on investigating the neuroendocrine mechanisms that regulate body weight and glucose metabolism. Karl has been in the Department since February 2010 when he was employed as a Postdoctoral Fellow. Karl’s laboratory studies how neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus control the body’s response to stress.

Physiology student wins Centre for Neuroendocrinology (CNE) PhD prize

Congratulations to Xander Seymour who was awarded the CNE PhD Prize last month. The prize is open to all CNE 2nd year PhD sutdents. Those shortlisted for the final had to give an oral presentation during a neuroendocrinology workshop hosted by CNE, and were judged by three internationally renowned neuroendocrinologists. Xander’s prize includes travel towards attendance at an international conference.

Team Physiology take part in Dunedin Marathon

The Department had a number of staff and students participating in the Dunedin Marathon event on 14th September. We had two people running the full marathon, 17 running the ½ marathon and one walking the ½ marathon – an awesome effort.

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Centre for Health, Activity, and Rehabilitation Research (CHARR) Research Week 24 -28th November

CHARR will be hosting a series of research events in the week beginning the 24th of November. Events include a Graduate Research Conference, Physical activity symposium, a Research Career Development Day, and a Healthy Ageing Symposium. CHARR invites researchers from around the University to attend any of these events. Further details on all events can be found at

Grant success

Congratulations to Dr Dan Ribeiro (Project: Shoulder Rehabilitation) and Dr Ram Mani (Project: Diabetes and Sedentary Behaviour) on being awarded UORGs for 2015.
Dr Steve Tumilty has been awarded a grant from the New Zealand Manipulative Physiotherapy Association.

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Other news

Postdoctoral Fellowships

Applications for Health Sciences postdoctoral fellowships close at 5.00pm on Monday 10 November 2014.  Doctoral graduates are reminded that they can also apply for other postdoctoral fellowships from the Rutherford Foundation and other charitable organisations, such as the Neurological Foundation and the Heart Foundation.
Read about the fellowhips and how to apply at our website.

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Translational Research Grant

The Division is, for the second year, holding a grant round to assist researchers in the pursuit of research which translates into societal benefits.
Grant details are as follows:

  • NZ$50,000 (no overheads) or, if the selected project is eligible for pre-seed funding, the value will be up to NZ$75,000 (no overheads)
  • All academic research staff in the Division are eligible to apply
  • The grant is to be used by the successful applicant(s) to "prove the concept"
  • Close collaboration is required with Otago Innovation Ltd to plan and carry out research activities which will result in the proof of concept
  • The translational research aims to generate intellectual property and result in a patent application

Applications for the grant close at 5.00pm on Friday 14 November 2014.

Find out about application process and how to apply at our website.

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