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Pulse 50: May / June 2015

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

PVC's welcome

Peter Crampton, PVC Health Sciences
Professor Peter Crampton.

Kia ora koutou kātoa,

Welcome to the 50th edition of Pulse!

Despite this being mid-semester break for students, staff in the Division continue to be very busy.

Of recent note, I warmly congratulate those researchers who were successful in gaining programme and project funding in the latest HRC funding round, and the Division's recipients of Early Career Awards: Drs Anita Carr, Karl Iremonger, and Logan Walker.

In October, the Division will again host the annual Research Forum, to be held at the University of Otago, Wellington. The Forum will showcase and celebrate the Division's high quality research, with a particular focus on cancer research this year. I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Best wishes for the beginning of Semester Two.

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

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General news

Health Research Council's funding round

Congratulations to the many researchers in the Division who were successful in gaining funds in the latest HRC funding round. The University of Otago gained more than NZ$30m in this round, including funding for three major multi-million, five-year programmes and 15 projects. Eight of the nine Emerging Researcher First Grants were also won by researchers from the University's three main campuses.

Innovative health research at Otago receives major funding (press release)
Older driver study part of Otago HRC funding scoop (Otago Bulletin Board)
Otago's up-and-coming researchers dominate funding round (Otago Bulletin Board)
Otago in 'stellar' HRC grant showing (ODT)

Early Career Awards

Congratulations to Dr Anita Carr (Pathology, UOC), Dr Karl Iremonger (Physiology, OSMS), and Dr Logan Walker (Pathology, UOC), who are recipients of University of Otago Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research. These researchers are now members of the University's O-Zone Group of early-to-mid-career researchers and will participate in the interdisciplinary thinking and collaborations that this group promotes.

Otago announces Early Career Awards recipients (press release)
Academics win early career awards for 'outstanding' research (ODT)

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Departmental news

Faculty of Dentistry

Professor Warwick Duncan of the Department of Oral Sciences, will next week present his Inaugural Professorial Lecture Surfaces, screws, smiles: translational research with dental implants.

The event will be held at 5.30pm Tuesday, 7 July 2015 in the Archway 1 Lecture Theatre, followed by refreshments upstairs at the Staff Club. All welcome.

Otago School of Medical Sciences

Department of Biochemistry

Dr Anita Dunbier (thumbnail)
Dr Anita Dunbier.

Congratulations to Professor Parry Guilford and Dr Peter Mace, who received project grants in the latest HRC round.

Special congratulations to Dr Anita Dunbier, who was a joint applicant on Peter's grant, and gained yet more funding via the HRC from Breast Cancer Research in New Zealand, to look at the effects of aspirin on anti-oestrogen therapy. Anita's research was also featured in the ODT and the New Zealand Herald, then the following week the ODT ran a feature on her personally.

New Zealand research into breast cancer gene (NZ Herald)
Running cancer secrets to ground (ODT)

Associate Professor Mik Black also had funding success, receiving money from the Paykel Trust to further develop his online cancer genomics analysis tool.

Lyn Dowsett of the Biochemistry Department retires at the end of Semester One

Lyn Dowsett joined the Department in 1980, initially for three years to provide needed teaching relief for the department, and she subsequently became a central iconic figure in the Department over a period now of 35 years. She retires from her role as a Professsional Practice Fellow, a role that evolved with PBRF from her position of almost 20 years as a Senior Teaching Fellow, during which she gained a Postgraduate Diploma of Tertiary Teaching. Lyn taught across a wide range of biochemistry laboratory programmes in science and medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy, and organised demonstrator support for all of them for many years. She became well known to thousands of students for her empathetic voice, and that led to her becoming 'camp mother' for students doing Biochemistry. Streams of students of all abilities would go to seek her support and advice to resolve the small and large problems they were experiencing. They were incredibly grateful for her nurturing and many came back to see her as they were leaving Dunedin to express their grateful appreciation. Lyn has established a legacy of enduring friendships with many of these former students.

Lyn was highly active in expanding her departmental role to the University and beyond. She has become the departmental interface for Māori and Pacifika students, a role she embraced with great enthusiasm. Lyn has been Co-Convenor of Staff Women's Caucus, President of the Association of Woman in the Sciences, President of the Otago Branch of the National Council of Women, President New Horizons for Women Trust, and had many more leadership roles. For the last 10 years she has been a Justice of the Peace, and now is the President of the Otago Association for Justices of the Peace of NZ. Always heavily involved in community activities in Dunedin, perhaps the highlight was her role as Co-Founder and President of the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust that highlighted the perilous state of these iconic Dunedin species and began a restoration programme for their survival. For this work she was awarded the Queens Service Medal in 1997.

Lyn is a very special person who will merge into the important folklore of the Department of Biochemistry. Her unique qualities will be irreplaceable.

Lyn Dowsett (right) with HOD Professor Catherine Day
Lyn Dowsett (right) with HOD Professor Catherine Day.

Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Three Microbiology and Immunology research projects awarded Lottery funding

Researchers from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology have obtained two translational research grants and one PhD scholarship in the latest Lottery Health Research funding round.

Professor Greg Cook and co-investigator Dr Htin Aung have been awarded NZ$86,218. Their project will investigate the use of whole genome sequencing of the tuberculosis bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, for more rapid diagnosis and treatment of extensively drug-resistant Tb.

Dr James Ussher was awarded NZ$41,008 for his project Rapid detection of antibiotic resistance through LC-CMS. Kirsten Ward-Hartstonge, from the Kemp Lab, received a PhD scholarship worth NZ$120,000.

Two Department researchers secure HRC funding

Dr James Ussher
Dr James Ussher.

Congratulations to Dr James Ussher, who was one of the eight University of Otago recipients of the HRC Emerging Research Grant. James was awarded NZ$150,000 over 36 months for his project Mucosal associated invariant T cells: mechanisms of bacterial control in humans.

Professor Gerald Tannock has secured funding as Co-Principal Investigator of a project with Professor Bernhard Breier of Massey University, Auckland. The project entitled The gut micro biome: a new pathway to obesity prevention and metabolic health has been awarded NZ$1,199,468.

Great result in Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust funding round

Microbiology and Immunology had an outstanding result in the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust March 2015 funding round, with all applicants being successful.

Congratulations to Dr Georgina Dowd, Liam Brennan, Michel Petridis, and Colin Davies, who all received travel funding. Dr Keith Ireton was successful in his bid for funding under the project and equipment category.

Big Microbiology and Immunology presence at OSMS Postgraduate Colloquium

The Otago School of Medical Sciences' annual Postgraduate Colloquium was attended by a huge proportion of Microbiology and Immunology students, with several of them taking out top prizes at the two-day event.

In the poster session, Rachel Herron won second place and Hannah Hampton came third. First place in the presentation awards went to Colin Davies for his talk titled Murine Norovirus Manipulation of the host Cell Cycle, and third place went to Braeden Donaldson.

Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Funding successes

Dr Yiwen Zheng
Dr Yiwen Zheng.

Dr Yiwen Zheng received two years' funding from AMRF (Jean Cathie Research Fund Fellowship) for her research project Selective activation of GABAergic neurons to treat tinnitus.


Dr John Ashton was interviewed by Radio New Zealand on Saturday, 6 June, as a specialist explaining how betablockers work on the body.

John was also interviewed by TV3, for their Newsworthy programme that screened on Monday, 8 June, as a specialist about the use of medicinal marijuana. The basis for this article was the case of Alex Renton who had been in an induced coma because of prolonged seizures since 8 April, and his mother was appealing to Government that Alex be administered Elixinol (cannabinoid oil) treatment. John's interview was conducted before approval.

Betablockers (Radio NZ)
Newsworthy – 8 June 2015 (TV3)

Department of Physiology

Dr Karl Iremonger recipient of University Early Career Award for Distinction in Research

Karl Iremonger, landscape thumbnail
Dr Karl Iremonger

Dr Karl Iremonger was one of five University academics to be recognised in this year's awards. Karl's research focuses on understanding how brain cells control the body's response to stress. Last year, he was awarded the Prime Minister's MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize as well as a Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship.

HRC funding for Physiology researchers

Congratulations to the following staff who have recently been awarded three-year project grants from the Health Research Council:

  • Dr Rebecca Campbell (AI Professor Allan Herbison) – Probing novel pathways mediating Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Dr Jeff Erickson (AIs Drs Pete Jones and Regis Lamberts) – CaMKII inhibition as a novel therapy for diabetic cardiomyopathy

Rebecca's research has been recently highlighted in the NZ Herald and the Otago Daily Times:

Fertility subject of landmark research (NZ Herald)
Grant will enable infertility research (ODT)

Physiology research highlighted on Heart Foundation website

Two Department of Physiology researchers' projects funded by the Heart Foundation, have been highlighted on their website recently. Dr Rajesh Katare's two-year project aims to develop a stem cell therapy that will help mend damaged hearts in people with diabetes. Dr Pete Jones' two-year project aims to identify how stress controls a protein called RyR2.

Search for new cardiac stem cell therapy (Heart Foundation)
Delving into heart rhythm problems (Heart Foundation)

Congratulations also to John Brady and Ashley Gillon (MSc students supervised by Associate Professor Phil Sheard) who formally completed the MSc programme.

School of Pharmacy

John Fraser
Mr John Fraser.

Congratulations to Mr John Fraser, Professional Practice Fellow, on being made a Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand. John started as an apprentice pharmacist in Oamaru and has worked throughout New Zealand as well as training in London to become a hospital pharmacist.


Congratulations to our recipients of the HRC Emerging Researcher grants:

  • Dr Shakila Rizwan – An intranasal treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy
  • Dr Shyamal Das – Formulation of anti-tuberculosis drugs for high dose pulmonary delivery

Student achievements

Congratulations to Piyanan Assawasuwannakit who has completed the PhD programme.

University of Otago, Christchurch

Seamus Tredinnick image
Seamus Tredinnick.

Congratuations to PhD Candidate and Assistant Research Fellow Seamus Tredinnick of the Christchurch Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering (CReATE) Group, who received the inaugural Healthtech Award for Best Translational Research Project. Seamus' project allows 3D printed titanium implants to become integrated with bone. Integration allows the bone to heal and remodel, providing new mobility for those at the end of traditional medicine methods with failed implants that would otherwise relegate them to a wheelchair or bed.

Award advances in biomedical engineering by Christchurch PhD candidate (University of Otago)
Healthtech Awards to foster entrepreneurial spirit (Callaghan Innovation)

Department of Pathology

Congratulations to Centre for Free Radical Research staff following the recent success in obtaining an HRC programme grant.

Dr Logan Walker in the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group was also successful in the HRC Breast Cancer funding round. A story about Logan's work on better understanding BRCA gene mutations ran in the NZ Herald.

New Zealand research into breast cancer gene (NZ Herald)

Professor Margreet Vissers in the Centre for Free Radical Research was awarded a HRC feasibility study grant for a vitamin C and cancer study.

Dr Pippa Scott in The Infection Group obtained a Health Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Congratuations also to Eng-Wee Chua, who successfully defended his thesis, and Abel Ang and Aaron Stevens, for their recent PhD submissions.

Tony Kettle was in The Press talking about the collaboration of the Centre of Free Radical Research with The Infection Group to address the global issue of increasing antibiotic resistance.

$5 million for Christchurch antibiotics research team (The Press)

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Other news

Name change for Faculty of Medicine

The Faculty of Medicine's name now reflects the name on the Scott Building—changing back to the University of Otago Medical School.

The University's Faculty of Medicine has changed its name—taking on its historical (and current de facto) name the University of Otago Medical School.

The name change was approved by the University Council in April and is now coming into effect.

In addition to being the principal name by which the School has been known for the past nearly 140 years, it is hoped that the new name will be an obvious and intuitive choice for the wider community, including politicians and the media.

The Otago Medical School comprises:

Name change for Faculty of Medicine (Otago Bulletin Board)

Health Sciences Research Forum

The Division of Health Sciences Research Forum is this year taking a change in direction. The meeting, which will be held in Wellington on Tuesday, 20 October, will focus for the next few years on displaying our research strength in different areas to an external as well as an internal audience.

In 2015 the focus will be Cancer Research. The event in October will showcase our best researchers from all stages of the cancer journey and include both early career and established researchers.

The event will feature a postgraduate poster evening and travel from Dunedin and Christchurch will be sponsored for a number of staff.

For more information contact:

Dr Michele Coleman

Workshop on Commercialisation

Associate Dean (Research Commercialisation) Professor Ian Tucker together with OIL and R&E, hosted a workshop offering practical information to researchers on 25 June. The workshop covered topics such as intellectual property and policy, start-ups, funding sources, when to publish, etc; and followed a two-day workshop held last year for PhD students on translation / commercialisation.

The Workshop was attended by 22 academic staff, the majority being from the Division of Health Sciences. The workshop was set in the context of the University's proposed Research Action Plan 2014–2020, which aims to encourage and support research commercialisation, and aligns with government signals aiming to increase the impact universities can have on New Zealand’s development, through knowledge exchange, collaboration, research, and commercialisation strategies.

Academic staff who missed the workshop and are interested in the above topics are encouraged to contact:

Professor Ian Tucker

Staff profile update form

Profiles from the Health Sciences Staff Expertise Database are increasingly being incorporated into new-look websites across the Division. This system means changes to a staff member's profile can be made once in the database, then automatically applied to all websites where that profile appears.

Please use the new profile update form to create and update staff profiles.

To select which publications are shown on your profile, please log into MyResearch and choose your 'Top 25'.

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