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Pulse 47: November / December 2014

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

PVC's welcome

Peter Crampton, PVC Health Sciences
Professor Peter Crampton

Kia ora koutou kātoa

Welcome to the final edition of Pulse for 2014.

This edition showcases the exemplary staff we have in the Division, and their outstanding successes and contributions made to society. The Division has certainly ended 2014 strongly, with notable externally awarded accolades.

Congratulations to Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman on receiving the Prime Minister’s Science Award. Philippa has, for a long time, demonstrated world-class research that has made tangible benfits to the lives of many New Zealanders. This award is thoroughly deserved.

Congratulations also to Dr Karl Iremonger, who has had a number of successes over the last few months: the Prime Minister’s McDiarmd Emerging Scientist Award, a Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship, and a Marsden Fast Start grant.

The Division was well represented at the recent Royal Society Honours Awards dinner, with congratulations to Professor Parry Guilford, the recipient of the Sir Charles Hercus Medal, and Associate Professor Peter Dearden the recipient of the Callaghan Medal.

I’d also like to congratulate those staff who have been awarded Rutherford Foundation Trust Awards, HRC Development Awards and grants from the latest round of Marsden funding.

From within the University a number of staff have been promoted to Associate Professor, and Dr Monica Gerth is the recipient of the Division’s Translational Research Grant.

I also pass on my warm thanks to all staff who have attended and supported our students at recent graduations.

My thanks too for all the hardwork and dedication shown by staff during 2014, and I wish you all a deserved, relaxing and enjoyable summer break spent with family and friends.

I look forward to working with you in 2015.

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

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General news

2014 Prime Minister's Science Prize

Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman

Congratulations to Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman (Public Health, UOW) and her world-renowned housing and health research team, He Kainga Oranga who have won the 2014 Prime Minister's Science Prize. This is the first time in the history of the award for the recipient to be a woman research leader and the first for a social scientist. The prize is awarded for transformative discovery or achievement in science that has had a significant impact on New Zealand or internationally.

University of Otago press release.
Prime Minister's Science prize article.
Dominion Post article.
Otago Daily Times article.

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2014 Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize

Dr Karl Iremonger

Congratulations to Dr Karl Iremonger (Physiology, OSMS) who has been awarded the Prime Minister's MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize in recognition for his discovery of a new brain cell structure and communication system. Dr Iremonger used cutting-edge technology to help identify brain cells that function differently to what has been previously accepted. The prize is awarded annually to an outstanding emerging scientist.

University of Otago press release.
Prime Minister's Emerging Scientist press release.
Otago Daily Times article.

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Sir Charles Hercus Medal

Parry Guilford
Professor Parry Guilford

Congratulations to Professor Parry Guilford (Biochemistry, OSMS) who is the recipient of the 2014 Sir Charles Herucs Medal for excellence in biomedial and health sciences. Parry received the medal in recognition of his world-renowned work that established the gene mutation that can lead to stomach cancer in families with the mutation.

University of Otago press release.
Otago Daily Times article.
Royal Society of New Zealand press release.

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Callaghan Medal

Associate Professor Peter Dearden
Associate Professor Peter Dearden

Congratulations to Associate Professor Peter Dearden (Biochemistry, OSMS) who has been awarded the Callaghan Medal for achievement in science communitation.  Peter's award was in recognition of the outreach activities of Genetics Otago that he helped form, and his involvement in communicating his genetics research on honey bees with the beekeeping industry and the public.

University of Otago press release.
Otago Daily Times article.
Royal Society of New Zealand press release.

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Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship

Karl Iremonger, landscape thumbnail
Dr Karl Iremonger

Congratulations to Dr Karl Iremonger (Physiology, OSMS) who is one of two recipients of prestigious Sir Charles Hercus Fellowships as part of the Health Research Council's 2015 Career Development Awards programme.  His fellowship has been awarded for his research titled, Chronic stress induced adaptations in hypothalamic brain circuits (48 months, $489,062). 

University of Otago press release.
Health Research Council press release.

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Rutherford Foundation Trust Awards

Congratulations to Dr Charlotte King (Anatomy, OSMS) and Dr Karen Reader (Anatomy, OSMS) who have been awarded presitigious Postdoctoral Fellowships.
Dr King has received funding to investigate how the change from societies based on hunting and gathering, to societies based on farming, affected prehistoric populations.
The focus of Dr Reader’s project will be on a subgroup of ovarian cancer, termed Granulosa Cell Tumours.

Honours student Max Wilkinson (Biochemistry, OSMS) has gained a Cambridge-Rutherford Memorial PhD Scholarships to undertake doctoral studies at Cambridge University. He will pursue a PhD in structural biology.

University of Otago press release.
Otago Daily Times article.

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HRC Career Development Awards

Congratulations to the following who received career development awards for 2015 from the Health Research Council New Zealand.  The awards are given to foster the health research workforce in New Zealand.

Māori health research career development awards
Māori Health Research PhD Scholarships

Ms Tania Huria (Dean's Department, UOC)
‘Created equal’: Investigating health system perspectives of disparities
39 months, $74,616

Ms Christina McKerchar (Population Health,UOC. Primary Supervisor is at Public Health, UOW)
Food availability for Māori children: A rights based approach
48 months, $120,750

Ms Kelly Tikao (University of Otago, Dunedin, taking up the award at the University of Canterbury)
Iho – a cord between two worlds. Traditional Māori birthing practices
36 months, $106,750

Māori Health Research Summer Studentships

Miss Christina Gordon (Physiology)
Changes in neural control of the heart following a heart attack
10 weeks, $5,000

Ms Te Kahui Tapsell (Primary Health Care & General Practice, UOW)
Analysis of 20 cases of severe acute maternal morbidity in Aotearoa
10 weeks, $5,000

Pacific Health Research career development awards
Pacific Health Research PhD Scholarships

Ms Jaye Moors (Biochemistry, OSMS)
Lipid profiles as a risk factor for metabolic disease in Polynesians
36 months, $88,550 plus fees

Dr Faafetai Sopoaga (Preventive and Social Medicine, DSM)
Pacific students’ health, wellbeing and success in higher education
36 months, $112,550

Pacific Health Research Summer Studentships

Ms Melbournemockba Mauiliu (Preventive and Social Medicine, DSM)
Experiences of Pacific peoples in the Prospective Outcomes of Injury Study
10 weeks, $5,000

Miss Alapasita Teu (Preventive and Social Medicine, DSM)
Building a Pacific health research workforce: “What do our alumni suggest?”
10 weeks, $5,000

University of Otago press release.
Health Research Council press release.

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Marsden funding round

Congratulations to the following staff who were successful in the latest round of Marsden funding:

Dr Stephen Bunn (Anatomy) $773,000
Functional and morphological dissection of a plastic neuroendocrine circuit

Dr Rebecca Campbell (Physiology, Centre for Neuroendocrinology) $820,000
Functional dissection of a novel GABAergic pathway in the brain circuitry controlling fertility

Dr Andrew Clarkson (Anatomy) $773,000
Memory impairments after stroke, a stressful condition

Associate Professor Ruth Empson (Physiology) $820,000
Mapping neuroplasticity in the brain

Dr Peter Fineran (Microbiology & Immunology) $773,000
Primed for action: bacterial adaptive immunity

Dr Monica Gerth (Biochemistry) $300,000 (Fast-Start)
Borrowing from nature’s library: fundamental insights into molecular recognition by chemoreceptors

Dr Sian Halcrow (Anatomy) $720,000
Transitions in prehistory: subsistence and health change in northern Chile

Associate Professor Mark Hampton (Pathology, Christchurch) $815,000
Redox regulation of cell death

Dr Karl Iremonger (Physiology) $300,000 (Fast-Start)
Oxytocin: a safety brake preventing excessive activation of the stress axis
University of Otago press release.
Royal Society of New Zealand press release.
Otago Daily Times article.

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Associate Professor promotions

Congratulations to the following who have been promoted to Associate Professor effective from 1 February 2015.
Promoted to Associate Professor:
Dr Stephen Bunn (Anatomy, OSMS)
Dr Peter Fineran (Microbiology and Immunology, OSMS)
Dr Patries Herst (Radiation Therapy, UOW)
Dr Julia Horsfield (Pathology, DSM)
Dr Keith Ireton (Microbiology and Immunology, OSMS)
Dr Christine Jasoni (Anatomy, OSMS)
Dr Gill Johnson (Physiotherapy)
Dr Jonathan Leichter (Dentistry)
Dr Ping Liu (Anatomy, OSMS)
Dr Suetonia Palmer (Medicine, UOC)
Dr Suzanne Pitama (Dean's Department, UOC)
Dr Ivan Sammut (Pharmacology and Toxicology, OSMS)
Dr Tai Sopoaga (Preventive and Social Medicine, DSM)
Dr Simon Stebbings (Medicine, DSM)
Dr Neil Waddell (Oral Rehabilitation, Dentistry)

Promoted to Research Associate Professor:
Dr Nigel Anderson (Radiology, UOC)
Dr Gabi Dachs (Pathology, UOC)

Promoted to Clinical Associate Professor:
Mr Jeremy Krebs (Medicine, UOW)
Dr Konrad Richter (Surgical Sciences, DSM)
Dr Catherine Stedman (Medicine, UOC)

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Divisional Translational Research Grant

Monica Gerth
Dr Monica Gerth

Congratulations to Monica Gerth (Biochemistry, OSMS) who is the winner of teh 2014 Health Sciecnes Translational Research Grant. The grant is to enable the planning and the undertaking of research activities that will results in proof of concept. Monica's proposal was to develop antimicrobial enzymes that can be used to prevent biofilms from coating medical devices and causing infections. The Translational Research grant will be used to test their engineered enzymes against various in vivo models of biofilm formation, and to explore their use as a surface coating on catheters and indwelling medical devices (e.g. hip, knee implants).

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Departmental news


Staff success

Congratulations to the following staff on their recent successes.

  • Dr Charlotte King and Dr Karen Reader who have been awarded Postdoctoral Fellowships in the 2014 Rutherford Foundation Trust Awards. Dr King's research project looks at the major transitions in prehistory, using a new life histories approach to trace health and diet in Northern Chile. Dr Reader's research looks at how Activin C modulates Granulosa Cell Tumors.
    Read more information about both projects on the Anatomy website.
  • Dr Stephen Bunn, Dr Andrew Clarkson, and Dr Sian Halcrow who have been awarded research grants from the Marsden Fund. The grants acknowledge the outstanding and innovative research projects being undertaken by these researchers and their associate investigators. The four research projects involving anatomy researchers have been funded to a total of $3,086,000M.
    Read more about these research projects on the Anatomy website.
  • Dr Louise Parr-Brownlie was a finalist in the Innovation and Science category of the 2014 Women of Influence Awards. Dr Parr-Brownlie was nominated by one of her research collaborators, Professor John Dalrymple-Alford of the University of Canterbury. Nominees in this category must demonstrate outstanding driving innovation, and new ways of tackling community and social issues within their chosen field.
    Read more informaiton about Dr Parr-Brownlie's achievements on the Anatomy website.
  • Associate Professor George Dias and Associate Professor John Reynolds will receive almost NZ$1M each, from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's new science investment fund,  for their innovative projects which focus on a novel method of extracting protein from wool, and the development of medical technology that allows neurochemicals to be non-invasively delivered to the brain to treat brain disorders.
    Read more information on the Anatomy website.


A new device, launched recently in Queenstown by researchers from the Department of Anatomy, could help in the fight against epidemics such as Ebola. The research team, led by Dr Jo-Ann Stanton, has completed years of research and development to create Freedom4, a portable hand-held DNA diagnostic device which is capable of providing in the field analyses.
Read more information about the Freedom4 on the Anatomy website.

National Electron Microscopy conference

A reminder that the Otago Centre for Electron Microscopy is hosting the National Electron Microscopy conference in February 2015. The workshops are open to the public (i.e. workshop participants do not also have to register for the conference).
More information is available at the conference website.

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Congratulations to the following staff:

  • Parry Guilford, the recipient of the Sir Charles Hercus Medal.
  • Peter Dearden, the recipient of the Callaghan Medal.
  • Monica Gerth for her Marsden Fast Start grant for her work on the identification and molecular analysis of chemoreceptors from the kiwifruit pathogen Psa.
  • Chris Brown and Richard Macknight are AIs on other successful Marsden fund applications.

Congratulations to the following students on their recent successes:

  • Max Williamson (Kurt Krause) is off to Cambridge to do a PhD thanks to a Rutherford Foundation Trust Scholarship.
  • Ashley Campbell (Kurt Krause) who has won a Fulbright scholarship to support graduate study in the USA next year.
  • Jaye Moors has won an HRC scholarship for PhD study continuing on from his MSc with Tony Merriman and Sally McCormick.
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Congratulations to Kishore Rajendran who had been awarded the prestigious RHT Bates Scholarship from the Royal Society of New Zealand.  This scholarship was established by the Royal Society in memory of Professor Richard Bates FRSNZ.  Students in the physical sciences and engineering are eligible, with preference being given to those whose research aims to apply information / image processing to studies in medicine, the physical sciences, astronomy or engineering.  The award comes with $6,000 and a framed certifcate.
Centre of Bioengineering article.
Royal Society of New Zealand article.

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Murray Thomson cropped
Professor Murray Thomson

Congratulations to Professor Murray Thomson who has been appointed as Editor-in-Chief of Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, effective 1 January 2015.  This follows Murray's recent success of receiving a second IADR Distinguished Scientist Award, the 2014 Geriatric Oral Research Award.
Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology journal website.

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Microbiology and Immunology

Dr Peter Fineran awarded Marsden funding for bacterial adaptive immunity research

Peter Fineran thumb
Dr Peter Fineran

Dr Peter Fineran of the Department of Microbiology an Immunology has been awarded a significant grant in this year's Marsden funding round. He has received $773,000 for the project entitled Primed for action: bacterial adaptive immunity, in association with Dr Chris Brown from the Department of Biochemistry and Dr Stan Brouns of the University of Wageningen.
University of Otago press release.

Microbiology students top the winners list at NZMS conference

Postgraduate students of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology represented the University of Otago in style at November's New Zealand Microbiological Association conference, taking away the two top student prizes.

Adrian Patterson, a PhD student in Dr Peter Fineran's lab, was awarded the student oral presentation prize, and Todd Wightman, a MSc student working with Professor Clive Ronson, won the student poster competition.

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The School of Pharmacy recently conducted a translational research grant competition supporting the “Translation of research into products and services to benefit society”. There were a total of 5 applications with 3 being shortlisted for interview by the Otago Innovation commercialisation team and a representative from the School of Pharmacy. First place was awarded to the team of Olaf Bork, Rohit Jain and Ian Tucker for their proposal titled “On-demand triggered injectable delivery system”. The runner-up was Sarah Hook who is developing a therapeutic cancer vaccine. Funding for these grants was as a direct result of commercial royalties from research already translated into products through the research of Professor Ian Tucker.

Congratulations to Prasad Nishtala on winning the OUSA New Supervisor of the Year award.

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Incredible success for Dr Karl Iremonger

It has been an incredible month for Dr Karl Iremonger, Lecturer in the Department. He was awarded a Marsden Fast-Start in early November. Then Karl was awarded one of only two Health Research Council (HRC) Sir Charles Hercus Fellowships in late November. This fellowship is extremely prestigious and he will use the four-year fellowship, valued at $489,062, to examine effects of chronic stress on the brain.

On 2nd December, Karl was awarded the Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize. He has discovered a new brain cell structure and communication system, setting the stage for more targeted therapies for neurological diseases. The Prime Minister presented Karl with the award at Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington along with the other recipients of the Prime Minister’s Prizes. The prize is worth $200,000, with $150,000 to be used for further research.

Success latest Marsden funding round

Congratulations to the following staff who were awarded funding:

  • Dr Rebecca Campbell (Associate Investigator (AI): Prof Allan Herbison) - awarded $820K over 3 years for her project "Memory impairments after stroke, a stressful condition"
  • Associate Professor Ruth Empson (AIs: Dr Andrew Clarkson & Prof. Thomas Knopfel) - awarded $820K over 3 years for her project "Primed for action: bacterial adaptive immunity"
  • Dr Karl Iremonger (AI: Dr Valery Grinevich) awarded a Fast-Start grant of $300K over 3 years for his project "Oxytocin: a safety brake preventing excessive activation of the stress axis"

In addition we had two staff named as AIs on successful Marsden grants from the Department of Anatomy - Associate Professor Ruth Empson with Dr Andrew Clarkson (Principal Investigator (PI)) & Dr Kristin Hillman; and Professor Brian Hyland with Dr Stephen Bunn (PI) and Professor Dave Grattan.

Cardiovascular symposium and Sir John Eccles Distinguished Lecture

On 25th-26th November, the Department hosted two events. The first was the HeartOtago cardiovascular symposium “Bench to Bedside and Back: New Advances in Cardiovascular Research” which featured an impressive group of researchers and clinicians from around New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Sweden. The symposium was opened by Professor Vernon Ward, and was attended by over 90 participants.

The Department then welcomed Professor Donald Bers from the University of California, Davis as the 2014 Sir John Eccles Distinguished Lecturer, who gave an interesting presentation on his calcium signaling in cardiac function and disease.

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Specialist role

Steve Tumilty thumb
Dr Steve Tumilty

Congratulations to Dr Steve Tumilty who, after a rigorous process, has achieved specialist status in the profession of physiotherapy as a Musculoskeletal Specialist.  Steve's appointment to this status makes him one of only three in New Zealand, and the first and only in a New Zealand academic institution. The specialist status recognises Steve'e expertise in musculoskeletal physiotherapy, in particular tendinopathy.
Otago Bulletin article.

Te Apa Māreikura

Congratulations to Ricky Bell, PhD student in the School who is the recpient of Te Apa Māreikura awarded by the Ministry of Health for demonstrated competencies and leadership in community health.  This is the first time this award has been presented to a physiotherapist.  Ricky received his award from the Minister of Health, Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman at a function held at Te Papa Tongawera Museum.

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