Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Pulse 51: July / August 2015

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

PVC's welcome

Peter Crampton, PVC Health Sciences
Professor Peter Crampton.

Tēnā koutou kātoa,

With sadness I note the very recent passing of Dr Elspeth Gold, of the Department of Anatomy and Centre for Translational Cancer Research.

It is only a year ago that Elspeth won a prestigious Proof of Concept Grant for further testing of a biomarker that could revolutionise the diagnosis of prostate cancer. Elspeth was a humble recipient. Her humility belied the importance of her work.

On behalf of the Division of Health Sciences I would like to extend our heartfelt sympathy to Elspeth's family, colleagues, and students—for whom she was a tremendous mentor.

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

^ Top of Page

General news

Carl Smith Medal and Rowheath Trust Award

Dr Suetonia Palmer image
Dr Suetonia Palmer.

Congratulations to Associate Professor Suetonia Palmer (University of Otago, Christchurch), co-recipient (with Associate Professor Jessica Palmer; Law) of the 2015 Carl Smith Medal and Rowheath Trust Award.

The Medal and Award recognise outstanding research performance of early-career staff at Otago, and are accompanied by a NZ$5,000 grant for personal scholarly development.

Carl Smith Medal awarded to rising Otago researchers (media release)

LIMElight Awards 2015

At the 2015 Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education (LIME) biennial Australiasian conference in Townsville, Australia, a remarkable four of five LIMElight Awards were won by staff and students of Otago's Division of Health Sciences.

Congratuations to the following award winners:

  • Māori Health Workforce Development Unit (MHWDU) – Leading Innovation in Indigenous Student Recruitment, Support and Graduation Award
  • Māori Indigenous Health Institute (MIHI) – Leading Innovation in Community Engagement Award
  • Associate Professor Suzanne Pitama (University of Otago, Christchurch) – LIMElight Leadership Award for Outstanding Leadership by an Individual
  • Natasha Martin (University of Otago, Wellington) – Student Award

LIMElight Awards 2015 (LIME Network)

Tertiary Teaching Awards

TTEA 2015 Otago three image
The three Otago winners of Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards for 2015 (from left) Dr Roslyn Kemp, Associate Professor Suzanne Pitama, and Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith (Graduate Research School).

Congratuations to Associate Professor Suzanne Pitama (University of Otago, Christchurch) and Dr Roslyn Kemp (Microbiology and Immunology), who were recognised at the recent Tertiary Teaching Awards.

Associate Professor Pitama won New Zealand's highest teaching honour—the Prime Minister's Supreme Award for tertiary teaching excellence. This is the third time in four years this award has been won by a staff member from the Division of Health Sciences at Otago; other recipients being:

  • Associate Professor Gordon Sanderson (Dunedin School of Medicine, 2013)
  • Associate Professor Rhiannon Braund (School of Pharmacy, 2012)

Dr Kemp received an award for Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching, in the General category.

Christchurch Maori health academic wins supreme teaching award (The Press)
Four out of four for Otago University (ODT)
Otago academic wins supreme NZ teaching excellence award (media release)
Suzanne Pitama wins NZ's top teaching award (Otago Bulletin Board)

^ Top of Page

Departmental news

Dunedin School of Medicine

The Cook Islands Ministry of Health, in partnership with the University of Otago and the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP), has awarded three of its doctors with the recently-established Cook Islands Postgraduate Diploma in General Practice.

Dr Mareta Jacob, Dr Ni Ni Wynn, and Dr Teariki Puni (represented by the family in his absence) were presented their Diploma by Professor Richie Poulton on behalf of the University of Otago.

The Cook Islands PG Diploma forms the first part of a Cook Islands Fellowship in General Practice and represents a milestone for health workforce in the Pacific region, in that Cook Islands doctors now have a pathway to pursue vocational training in general practice.

Embarking on the Diploma meant that the Cook Islands doctors became part of a wider peer group—thus overcoming some of the professional isolation often faced by clinicians in remote locations. At the same time there has been a reciprocal effect; the contributions of the Cook Island doctors to the group—both in the online forums and at residentials—bringing a wider regional Pacific perspective to the programme.

Cook Islands Postgraduate Diploma in General Practice graduates

^ Top of Page

Otago School of Medical Sciences

Department of Biochemistry

Associate Professor Tony Merriman's student Tanya Flynn has been in the news lately. Her work on tomatoes as a gout trigger has been featured on the University website and on Radio New Zealand National, and in a science poetry blog.

Otago research backs belief that tomatoes can be a gout trigger (media release)
Tomatoes found to be a lead cause of gout attacks (Radio NZ)
Bolognese and Salsa You Should Ditch (The Poetry of Science)

A paper by Associate Professor Sally McCormick's PhD student Monika Sharma published in the July issue of the Journal of Lipid Research was chosen for an associated commentary in the same issue. The paper by Sharma et al. uncovered a novel feature of the cardiovascular risk factor, lipoprotein(a) showing it to be positive regulator of cholesterol efflux, a process associated with protection from heart disease.

Associate Professor Peter Dearden featured on Radio New Zealand National talking about his idea of a programme to sequence 100 of New Zealand's native species.

Sequencing Taonga Genomes (Radio NZ)

Alumnus Colin Jackson, who did his Honours year with Sigurd Wilbanks in 2002, has been named ACT's inaugural scientist of the year. Colin did his PhD at ANU, then postdocs in France and Israel before returning to Australia to take up a faculty position in the Department of Chemistry at ANU.

ANU's Colin Jackson named ACT's inaugural Scientist of the Year (ABC News)

Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Scavenging of trace gases sustains soil bacteria communities

Professor Greg Cook (186px)Professor Greg Cook.

In a paper just published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Professor Greg Cook and colleagues have demonstrated for the first time that acidobacteria, the second most dominant bacteria in global soils, rely on hydrogen gas for survival.

Volcanic bacteria take minimalist approach to survival (media release)

Cook Lab genetics research awarded NZ$450,000 HRC grant

Professor Greg Cook, Dr Htin Aung, and Dr Phillip Hill (Centre for International Health) have been awarded NZ$450,000 to investigate the genetic basis of tuberculosis (TB) drug resistance in Indonesia and Myanmar. The funding has been made available as part of the e-Asia HRC (Health Research Council) Joint Research Programme.

Otago's international TB research efforts gain major support (media release)

Two exceptional PhD theses

Two doctoral theses with a supervision contribution from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology have been named as 'exceptional' by the Division of Sciences. Congratulations to Clara Bah and Fanny Mondet.

A thesis is of exceptional quality when all three examiners of a candidate's thesis agree that the thesis is of an exceptional standard in every respect ­ research content, originality, quality of expression and accuracy of presentation ­ and is amongst the top 10% of the theses examined that year.

Ronson Lab's plant-bacteria interaction research published in Nature

Professor Clive Ronson is a part of an international team of scientists that has just published a research breakthrough in the high-profile journal Nature.

The study describes the mechanism by which legumes, such as white clover, are able to tell helpful and harmful invading bacteria apart.The research has implications for improving the understanding of how other plant and animal species interact with bacteria in their environment and defend themselves against hostile infections.

Researchers discover how bacteria sweet-talk their way into plants (media release)

Success for all Department's applicants in OSMS Bequest funding

The Department has this year had a 100% success rate with applications for OSMS Bequest funds. Congratulations to Dr Matloob Husain, Associate Professor Keith Ireton, Dr Ros Kemp, Dr Jo Kirman, Associate Professor Alex McLellan, and Dr James Ussher, who have all been awarded research funding.

Kirman Lab research discussed in Nature Immunology report

Research undertaken by Dr Jo Kirman and PhD student Pia Steigler received a mention in a Nature Immunology report of the first Innate Immune Memory Conference held in Cambridge recently.

The meeting looked at the newly-described immunological process which appears to have a central role in host defense and inflammation, establishing the Kirman Lab as one of the leaders in this field.

Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Dr Sarah Baird
Dr Sarah Baird.

Dr Sarah Baird received funding from the Granulosa Cell Tumour Research Foundation for her research project Overexpression of wild-type FOXL2 in granulosa cell tumours: Targeted delivery using mesenchymal stem cells.

Dr Baird also received funding from the Dean's Bequest Fund for her research project The development of combinatorial anti-cancer treatment with cyclosporine and nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antagonists.

Department of Physiology

The Department would like to congratulate the following people:

Dr Rajesh Katare and his lab who, along with collaborators at Dunedin Hospital, has discovered why heart disease is the number one killer of people in diabetes. Dr Katare's research was featured on the front page of the Otago Daily Times on 13 August:

Major diabetes discovery (ODT)

Jim Woods, an engineer from the Emtech Unit, was part of an article in the Otago Daily Times on 3 August. Jim, in consultation with Geology, designed, project managed and bult the "Thumper" which will be used for seismic research in Antarctica.

Acoustic tool tested before polar research (ODT)

Pauline Campos (supervisors Professor Allan Herbison and Professor Brian Hyland) and Aleisha Moore (supervisors Dr Rebecca Campbell and Professor Allan Herbison) have formally completed their PhDs. Both Pauline's and Aleisha's theses have been placed on the Health Sciences Divisional List of Exceptional Doctoral theses. The list comprises doctoral candidates whose research is assessed as being of an exceptional standard in every respect, and is amongst the top 10% of theses examined.

Professor Alison Heather has been awarded a 2015 Distinguished Service Medal by the University of Sydney for excellence in Medical and Science Faculty PhD supervision.

Joe Zhang (PhD student) was awarded the ISHR-ES Poster Prize Award at the 33rd International Society for Heart Research Meeting of the European Section in Bordeaux.

Dr Rebecca Campbell (above with (from left) Chris Marshall, Georgina Abbott, and Aleisha Moore), won the OUSA Health Sciences Dunedin Supervisor of the Year Award. The awards ceremoney was held on 24 August at the Staff Club.

We also had a number of staff and postgraduates obtaining external project funding and travel awards, so well done to everyone.

^ Top of Page

Pacific Islands Research and Student Support Unit (PIRSSU)

MPIP participant To encourage Pacific students to consider research as a viable career pathway, PIRSSU ran our very first 'My Pitch is Perfect' (MPIP) Pacific Research Competition. MPIP was set up to combat common myths about research careers, and to give students an opportunity to understand the process of research.

Students were given 48 hours to complete their projects. They were required to meet with academic staff to refine their ideas, then they were sent away to prepare a two-page written submission to accompany their five-minute pitches. Students were judged on the content of their research, how well thought-out their proposals were, whether they were achievable, their research methodologies, their two-page written submissions, as well as the clarity and creativity of their presentations.

Overall the event was a success with students finding the experience both inspirational and motivational. PIRSSU is looking forward to running this event again on an annual basis and getting more academic staff involved who are interested in boosting the profile of research among our Pacific students.

^ Top of Page

School of Pharmacy

Student achievements

Congratulations to Sharan Bobbola and Vittal Shivva who have submitted their PhD theses for examination.

^ Top of Page

School of Physiotherapy

Congratuations to Dr Margot Skinner, who has been elected Vice President of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT). Dr Skinner has been the Asia–Western Pacific representative on the WCPT Executive for the past eight years. The last time a New Zealander was represented at this level was when Glen Park was the WCPT President, 45 years ago.

^ Top of Page

University of Otago, Christchurch

Colin McRae Medal

Emeritus Professor Alastair Rothwell
Emeritus Professor Alastair Rothwell.

Emeritus Professor Alastair Rothwell, an orthopaedic surgeon who has taught University of Otago, Christchurch medical students for 50 consecutive years, has been awarded New Zealand¹s most prestigious surgical prize.

Emeritus Professor Rothwell received the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' (RACS) Colin McRae Medal for his exceptional contribution to surgery, including establishing the internationally-recognised New Zealand Joint Registry, and co-founding a programme to restore tetraplegic patients' upper limb function.

Emeritus Professor Rothwell was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to orthopaedic surgery in 2006.

In 2009 he was awarded the Gold Medal for Excellence in Teaching by the University of Otago, Christchurch; and 2015 marks his 50th consecutive year of teaching medical students.

Professor's long career in Christchurch celebrated

Professor David Fergusson's success in encouraging evidence-based social policy, and many other accomplishments over his long academic career, were acknowledged in a recent day of lectures.

Professor Fergusson is retiring after leading the influential Christchurch Health and Development Study (CHDS) for almost 40 years.

The University of Otago, Christchurch, recently hosted a day of lectures to celebrate his career. Speakers included Vice Chancellor Harlene Hayne and Dunedin Longitudinal Study Director Professor Ritchie Poulton.

The CHDS is widely acknowledged as one of the best and most productive in the world. Professor Fergusson and his team have tracked the health and psychosocial development of more than 1000 children born in Christchurch in 1977. Evidence from the study has contributed to significant changes such as the removal of lead from petrol, laws requiring the fencing of residential swimming pools, and has enlightened debate by providing an evidence base on key social issues such as suicide, abortion, and child sexual abuse.

Long-standing CHDS colleagues Associate Professors John Horwood and Joe Boden will lead the study after Professor Fergusson’s retirement.

Professor Richie Poulton (left), Professor David Fergusson, Dr Phil Silva and Associate Professor John Horwood at Professor Fergusson’s Festshrift event on Friday. Photo: Kate Aldred.

Master of Nursing Science

In response to a change in the Nursing Council of New Zealand's regulations for registered nurse practice, the University of Otago is developing a new master's degree to start in 2016, which will allow graduates from any discipline to study to become a registered nurse.

The Master of Nursing Science is an intensive, two-year full-time, programme that integrates academic and clinical knowledge and skills. On successful completion of the degree, students will be eligible for registration as a nurse in New Zealand.

The new degree is awaiting final approval from the Nursing Council of New Zealand.

^ Top of Page

Other news


This year's Three Minute Thesis (3MT) final is being held today, Wednesday 26 August at 5pm in Archway 4. All welcome.

There are eight PhD and two masters' students in the final, including four Health Sciences competitors:

  • Emma Wade, Department of Women's and Children's Health (Dunedin School of Medicine)
  • Leon Mabire, Centre for Health, Activity, and Rehabilitation Research (School of Physiotherapy)
  • Jenny McDowell, Sir John Walsh Research Institute (Faculty of Dentistry)
  • Mayouri Sukhapure, Department of Psychological Medicine (University of Otago, Christchurch)

The final will be live streamed for those who are unable to attend.

Otago Spotlight Series: Cancer Research

This year the Health Sciences Research Forum has a cancer focus, join us in Wellington:

  • 9am–3.30pm Tuesday, 20 October 2015
  • Nordmeyer Theatre, University of Otago, Wellington

Internationally-recognised scientists and award-winning emerging researchers, present bite-sized details of their cancer research. This is a free public event. All welcome.

Student poster competition

An associated poster competition with cash prizes will be held on the evening of 19 October.

Register for both events by 22 September:

Some travel awards are available for Christchurch and Dunedin staff and students. Contact the Dean of your school.

International Toxicology Symposium at Otago

Professor Rhonda J Rosengren received funding from OSMS Dean's Strategic Funds to facilitate an International Toxicology Symposium at the University of Otago in November 2015.

The aim of the symposium is to build a toxicology research cluster encompassing departments from the Otago School of Medical Sciences, the greater Division of Health Sciences, the Sciences and Humanities divisions, as well as internationally leading toxicologists, including specialists from Texas A&M, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Arizona.

Details to be announced.

Professor Jeffrey Lichtman Public Lecture

Professor Jeffrey Lichtman, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University, will present a public lecture in Dunedin on Wednesday, 28 October at 5.30pm (venue TBA).

Professor Lichtman is a developmental neurobiologist interested in the way in which experience alters nervous system organization in long-lasting ways. He has participated in the development of a number of methods that describe neural connectivity at the level of individual synapses (connectomics) and how these networks change over time, using fluorescence and electron microscopical methods.

Connectomics: Jeff Lichtman at TEDxCaltech (YouTube)

^ Top of Pag