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Pulse 68: May / June 2018

Thursday 28 June 2018 1:03pm

PVC's welcome

Peter Crampton, PVC Health Sciences
Professor Peter Crampton.

Tēnā koutou katoa,

Welcome to the winter edition of Pulse. This is my valedictory note to friends, colleagues, staff and students in the Division of Health Sciences, as I step out of the role of PVC and take up a new role in the University at the end of this week. In my next role I will be teaching and researching—particularly in matters related to health policy, Māori health and Pacific health—based in Kōhatu, the Centre for Hauora Māori. In addition I will be continuing in the role of Dean of the Otago Medical School for the next few months while we go through the process of appointing my successor in that role.

Over the past seven-and-a-half years there have been many aspects that I have loved about the role of PVC. Most of all, I have enjoyed the collective achievements. Much of the satisfaction I have derived from my role has been vicarious; being a spectator and hopefully a facilitator, in a small way, of other people’s successes.

There are many achievements that belong to the wider team, to our professional and academic colleagues in the Division and in the University. I won’t attempt to list all the milestones of the past seven-and-a-half years, but I will mention a few here to give a flavour of the work that you all have contributed to, in no particular order:

  • Getting the Dental and Research Support Facility buildings out of the ground
  • Obtaining University approval for the Manukau City dental facility
  • Contributing to the establishment of the Te Kāika initiative in Caversham—led by Ngai Tahu in partnership with the University
  • Divisional leadership of two National Science Challenges
  • Divisional leadership of Genomics Aotearoa
  • Establishment of the Divisional Research Infrastructure Governance Group
  • The large increase in Māori and Pacific student numbers
  • Establishment of strong outreach into the Pacific and partnership with Pacific nations
  • Collaboration in the National School of Rural Health proposal
  • Establishment of the Tairāwhiti Interprofessional Education Programme, led from the University of Otago Wellington campus
  • Establishment of the new BHSci programme
  • Surviving and recovering from a major earthquake in Christchurch
  • Completing the business case for the proposed redevelopment of the UOC campus
  • And also, managing a decade of growth in research income and in student numbers. Growth brings with it rewards, and its own particular stresses and strains as well.

The list could go on, but the point is that these achievements have all been the result of multiple team efforts.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the team in the Divisional Office. The team is now dispersed as a result of changes arising from SSR restructuring, however I will be forever grateful to have had the privilege to work with such talented and committed colleagues. My heartfelt thanks go to them.

Another aspect of the role that I have valued is the culture of strong, shared strategic leadership and shared responsibility in the Division and in the Divisional Office. When I started clearing out my office I came across a notebook that I used to record meetings and thoughts when I started as PVC at the beginning of 2011. There are numerous entries related to the Christchurch earthquakes that occurred in February 2011. The earthquakes in particular accelerated the process of team building in the Divisional Office, and of course necessitated a very long process of recovery, planning and repair at the University of Otago Christchurch campus.

I have always appreciated and enjoyed the geography of the Division of Health Sciences, with its two northern campuses in Christchurch and Wellington, and dispersed staff and students—from East coast Australia, the Pacific, and from Northland to Invercargill. I am very grateful for having always been made to feel welcome by colleagues and friends in all parts of the country.

I wish to thank all my colleagues and friends in the University. The distinction between academic and professional staff has always seemed a little forced to me. I believe we are one whānau working towards one set of goals. I acknowledge with immense appreciation the dedication of the professional staff. Their commitment and willingness to respond to the constant challenges are legendary.

Thank you to the Deans, Associate Deans and 41 HoDs, and to our amazing academic staff, many of whom lead complex dual professional lives, both in the University and as health professionals. Many times I have interacted with staff who have been up much of or all of the night caring for patients, and who are at work the next day carrying on as usual. Small and large acts of devotion are commonplace amongst our academic staff and professional staff. It is humbling to work alongside such committed colleagues. We as a University depend so much on the loyalty and the willingness of our staff to go above and beyond.

I also wish to thank the literally hundreds and hundreds of colleagues and friends in the health system—in health centres, physiotherapy clinics, general practices, pharmacies, dental clinics, hospitals and so on—outside the University, on whom we are completely dependent to run our nine health professional programmes. Without them there would be no health professional programmes.

I have already thanked the Vice Chancellor and senior colleagues for the opportunities I have had and for the pleasure of working with them. I am very pleased to be passing the PVC baton to Paul Brunton, and am delighted that the Division will be in such excellent hands.

To all our staff and students in the Division of Health Sciences, thank you again everyone for a great seven-and-a-half years. I look forward to working with you all in my new role in Kōhatu.

Kia tau te rangimārie, kia tātou katoa.

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

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General news

HRC funding success

University of Otago projects totaling $18,809,675 were funded this year by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, a similar amount to last year. As part of this annual funding round, the government body has awarded a total of $55.56 million to 49 projects, each with the potential to vastly improve the health of New Zealanders.

Congratulations to all our investigators who have contributed to this success.

Read more in the media release:
Almost $19 million awarded to Otago researchers in Health Research Council funding

Listed below are the funded projects led by Health Sciences principal investigators.

Professor Haxby Abbott, Department of Surgical Sciences, DSM

The primary care management and impact of osteoarthritis: learning from big data
36 months, $1,199,993
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a very common chronic condition, causing a significant health and social burden. Every year more than 5 per cent of the total adult population ≥55 years will consult their general practitioner about OA. Overseas, it is known that management of OA is well short of best practice. In New Zealand, little is known about how GPs actually manage people with OA across the long-term course of the disease. Further, we have poor information about the economic and social costs (such as employment, productivity, income and welfare effects), due to lack of knowledge of the early clinical course and management of OA. This study will investigate the primary care management of OA, the health and social economic costs of OA across the whole course of the disease, and the potential gains from improving the delivery of care for OA. This will inform GP practice and national health policy.

Professor Michael Baker, Department of Public Health, UOW

Developing an optimal strategy for the rheumatic fever endgame
36 months, $1,196,974
Acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and its serious complication rheumatic heart disease (RHD) produce large ethnic health inequities and remain important causes of preventable suffering and death for Māori and Pacific New Zealanders. There is a lack of agreement about the best mix of interventions to prevent ARF and reduce the health impact of RHD. This research will use a combined economic and epidemiological model to assess which interventions produce the greatest health gains for the same health resources. It will compare a range of interventions at the primordial (eg. income, housing), primary (eg, sore throat and skin infection treatment, vaccination), secondary (eg, improved ARF diagnosis, antibiotic prophylaxis) and tertiary levels (eg, better access to medical and surgical treatment of RHD). New Zealand is investing significant resources in ARF and RHD prevention and control. This research will help ensure we achieve the best possible value for Māori and Pasifika children

Dr Rebecca Brookland, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, DSM

Predictors and impact of driving cessation on older adults and whanau/families
48 months, $1,199,989
This research focuses on balancing the need for independent mobility among older drivers with their safety and that of other road users. Stopping driving can have serious consequences for older people: depression, poorer health, and social isolation. The transition to driving cessation can be distressing for drivers and families. This 4 year longitudinal study of drivers over 65 years and family members will investigate how older adults modify their driving, meet their transport needs and adapt to driving cessation, and the role families play. Study participants, 15 per cent Māori, have been recruited and interviewed once. Two further interviews (2 and 4 years later) will be undertaken to identify individual and family factors associated with driving self-regulation and cessation, and assess the impact of these changes on social, psychological, health and mobility outcomes. The findings will contribute to better policy, a need identified by NZ Road Safety and Positive Ageing Strategies.

Dr Linda Cobiac, Department of Public Health, UOW

Choosing interventions to reduce alcohol-related harm
36 months, $1,037,229
Alcohol is responsible for a substantial burden of health and social harm in New Zealand, particularly among Māori. Taking advantage of New Zealand’s advanced data linkage environment (the Integrated Data Infrastructure [IDI]) we will model the health, social and economic implications of a range of potential intervention strategies to address the price and availability of alcohol and behaviour around its use. The research will provide new knowledge on the best ways to improve population health, reduce health inequalities and save costs for the health system and wider society (through reduced crime and increased productivity). It will allow for informed decision-making on alcohol in the context of other options (through league table comparison with other New Zealand-specific health sector interventions comparably modelled, eg for tobacco control) and allow for informed judgements around government revenue (eg, generated by alcohol tax increases).

Professor Julian Crane, Department of Medicine, UOW

Are toxic moulds a real health hazard in New Zealand?
36 months, $1,193,603
This study will look for the first time at the health of occupants of leaky homes in particular (but not exclusively) asthma and nose and chest problems and compare them to the health of occupants of dry non-leaky homes. It is now possible to look at many microbes (bacteria and moulds) in house dust by measuring the traces of the chemicals that they produce. Some of these may be particularly irritant to the nose and lungs and be responsible for some of the symptoms that occupants often report. We will also look at specific moulds and grow them in the laboratory. Some of these moulds may enter homes already impregnated on new gib board that come to life if the gib gets wet from a leak. We will look at New Zealand gib board to see if this is a problem in this country.

Professor Michael Eccles, Department of Pathology, DSM

Epigenomic profiling to predict patient response to melanoma immunotherapy
36 months, $1,198,714
The recent developments of cancer immunotherapies that target immune checkpoint proteins are demonstrating durable clinical success for melanoma patients. However, a large proportion (60-70 per cent) of patients do not respond to this treatment and therefore it is crucial to develop predictive biomarkers for the success of this therapy. Recent data from pre-clinical models and our own work suggest that distinct DNA methylation profiles of patients could potentially serve as a predictive biomarker.
Based on epigenomic and immune gene-related profiles of responder and non-responder patients, we will develop a DNA methylation marker panel that predicts the likelihood of melanoma patients responding to immune checkpoint treatment. We will then perform functional assays and molecular editing of key loci to understand how exclusive DNA methylation changes in cells regulate immune checkpoint signalling. This work will contribute to selecting the best treatment option for patients, and also for developing new targets for epigenetic therapies.

Professor Leigh Hale, School of Physiotherapy

Co-creating a digital self-help intervention for people with persistent pain
36 months, $1,198,177
Persistent non-cancer pain affects more than one in five New Zealanders. Māori, people living in areas of high deprivation and older adults are at greatest risk. The best evidence for longer-term benefits of persistent pain management are for group-based, multidisciplinary pain management programs (PMP) that focus on behavioural interventions. However, there is poor access to multidisciplinary PMP for people living in remote and rural areas due to transportation costs and long waiting lists. Web-based technologies are an alternative way to deliver behavioural interventions. Although online-delivered interventions have been successful in improving persistent pain, none were developed with patient co-design nor compared to group-based, in-person PMPs. We plan to do both. The primary aim of this project is to co-create an evidence-based, culturally appropriate, online-delivered intervention called iSelf-help and evaluate its clinical and cost-effectiveness compared to group-based, in-person delivered PMP in reducing pain-related disability at 6-months.

Dr Peter Jones, Department of Physiology, BMS

A novel target for the control of arrhythmias
36 months, $1,133,212
A major cause of cardiac dysfunction is the disruption of the coordinated calcium signalling pathways within the cells of the heart. A protein pivotal in regulating cardiac cell calcium signalling is RyR2. The function of RyR2 is in turn regulated by two cell signalling proteins known as kinases. Interestingly, both kinases lead to an increase in RyR2 function which can ultimately cause disease. Therefore, they are the focus of many drug studies aimed at reducing arrhythmias and cardiomyopathies. Excitingly, we have recently identified a third kinase which, unlike those previously identified, reduces the function of RyR2 and may therefore be protective against disease. We will examine the effect of modulating this kinase on cardiac dysfunction and determine the level to which its activity is altered in patients with cardiac disease. This work is critical for identifying new targets for the next generation of cardio-protective drugs which are urgently required.

Dr Peter Mace, Department of Biochemistry, BMS

Understanding regulation of the polycomb-repressive deubiquitinase in malignancy
36 months, $1,193,468
Reversible modifications to histone proteins play a major role in histone-DNA packaging and ultimately gene expression. The Polycomb Repressive Deubiquitinase (PR-DUB) complex removes one important type of histone modification. Mutations in components of the PR-DUB frequently give rise to malignant mesothelioma, melanomas, and renal cell carcinoma, and increase susceptibility to asbestos.
We have recently solved the structure of the PR-DUB from Drosophila, which is functionally similar to the human complex. Based on this structure we will investigate why cancer-derived mutations impair activity of the human PR-DUB, and how PR-DUB activity regulates gene expression from particular regions of the genome. The overall goal of this project is to better understand how the PR-DUB is regulated, to facilitate more informed treatment decisions for affected patients and potentially new therapeutic strategies. More broadly, this work will contribute important insight into the relationship between epigenetics and environmental carcinogens.

Professor Sally McCormick, Department of Biochemistry, BMS

Targeting new receptors for lipoprotein(a)
48 months, $1,185,496
Twenty percent of people have high plasma levels of a form of cholesterol called "Lp(a)" which predisposes them to heart attacks. Lp(a) consists of a low density lipoprotein (LDL), otherwise known as the "bad cholesterol" particle, with an additional protein called "apo(a)" attached to it. Much is known about how Lp(a) causes heart attacks but less is known about how it is cleared from the blood. We recently discovered a new clearance pathway for Lp(a) that operates via a plasminogen receptor called "PlgRKT". This pathway leads to Lp(a) uptake by liver cells. Our research aims to characterise the newly identified Lp(a) uptake pathway and establish its importance for regulating Lp(a) levels in vivo. We will interrogate the pathway to find ways of manipulating it. Our research will generate new knowledge about Lp(a) and plasminogen receptors and will lay the foundation for developing novel Lp(a)-lowering therapies.

Professor Pauline Norris, School of Pharmacy

Randomised controlled trial of prescription charges
36 months, $1,035,525
Although prescription charges in New Zealand are low compared with many other countries, many people report that they cannot afford the medicines they need. We plan to conduct a randomised controlled trial of prescription charges to see whether removing charges would improve people’s health. We will recruit a group of people who have diabetes and/or ongoing mental health conditions requiring medication, and live in deprived neighbourhoods. We will divide the group in half and pay prescription charges for one group for twelve months. We will then compare how many days people from each group spend in hospital to see whether free prescriptions make a difference. Additional differences in health services, quality of life, and medicines use between the groups will also be investigated.

Professor Lisa Stamp, Department of Medicine, UOC

Is prophylaxis required with start-low go slow dosing of allopurinol in gout?
48 months, $1,432,108
Long-term urate lowering is key to successful treatment of gout. However, commencing urate lowering therapies, particularly when starting higher doses, is associated with painful attacks of gout. This has led to the recommendation that patients should receive additional medication to prevent gout attacks for several months when starting urate lowering treatment. The common medications for preventing gout attacks are colchicine, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or steroids all of which may have adverse effects. Current recommendations for commencing allopurinol, the most common urate lowering therapy, are to start at low dose and gradually increase over several months. This “start-low go slow” dose strategy may be associated with fewer gout flares and thus negate the need for medication to prevent flares. We will undertake a clinical trial to determine whether medication to prevent gout attacks is required with the new allopurinol dosing strategy and whether the side effects of these medication outweigh the benefits.

Professor Timothy Stokes, Department of General Practice and Rural Health, DSM

Do regional DHB groupings improve service integration and health outcomes?
24 months, $799,562
This research aims to improve health care for New Zealanders through studying the four regional District Health Board (DHB) groupings which together cover all of New Zealand (NZ). The four regional DHB groupings are fundamental to delivering better integration of health care as they plan, fund and deliver health services in their defined geographical regions, with the aim of reducing fragmentation, duplication and service vulnerability. We do not know if these four regional DHB groupings have delivered improved health outcomes for New Zealanders and whether, if they have achieved this, what organisational features explain this success. This research will use a combination of interviews with key stakeholders and analysis of routine collected health system measures to answer these questions. It seeks to explore if regional DHB groupings can improve health outcomes and, if so, to understand what is it about the way they operate that may explain their success.

Professor Richard Troughton, Department of Medicine, UOC

Dietary sodium reduction to improve heart failure outcomes: The SODIUM-HF study
36 months, $1,412,362
We will participate in the SODIUM-HF trial, which is a large international multi-centre study testing an important question about whether reducing dietary salt intake improves health and outcomes for patients with heart failure. Heart failure is common and is associated with retention of salt by the kidneys resulting in fluid congestion, breathlessness and swelling. Four New Zealand hospitals will join Canadian hospitals in recruiting patients with heart failure. Patients will receive either standard advice about salt restriction (usual care group), or specific advice to restrict salt intake to a much lower level (low salt group). We have developed guidelines for salt restriction that reflect the food preferences of New Zealanders, especially those of Maori and Pacific People. The dietary advice will be continued for 12 months and we will assess the impact of the two dietary guidelines on hospitalisation and survival. Findings will inform international and national heart failure guidelines.

Funded Pacific Project:

Associate Professor Faafetai Sopoaga, Office of Associate Dean Pacific, Va'a o Tautai

Mental health and wellbeing of Pacific youth in higher education
36 months, $599,336
The mental health of Pacific young people in New Zealand is a concern. Mental health is included in the New Zealand Health Research Strategy as an area of priority. There is no information to our knowledge about the mental health and wellbeing of Pacific students in tertiary institutions. It is estimated that there are at least 30,000 Pacific students in tertiary institutions. This research seeks to obtain information about the mental health and wellbeing of Pacific tertiary students in their first three years at university. We are seeking to determine the risk and protective factors that influence their mental health and well-being. We will explore students’ access to services, their expectations and experiences at University, including barriers to using health or other support services. Furthermore, we wish to determine the role of access to health and other support services on their mental health, well-being and academic progress.

Funded Rangahau Hauora Māori Project:

Dr Cameron Lacey, Department of Psychological Medicine, UOC

Pathways to First Episode Psychosis and Outcomes In Māori
24 months, $618,336
There is some evidence for Māori having increased prevalence and worse outcomes following diagnosis of a psychotic disorder. However, little is known about the factors contributing to these inequities or strategies to reduce them. This project aims to utilise routinely collected national data to identify detailed patterns of health and social service use preceding a diagnosis of first episode psychosis (FEP) for Māori as well as investigating post diagnosis clinical and social pathways that lead to inequities. Qualitative investigation and focus groups with Māori and whānau with FEP and healthcare and social service providers will discuss these pathways to first episode psychosis to identify existing service responses and opportunities for further improvement. Patterns of service use will be used to develop recommendations for best practice for Māori with first episode psychosis and generate strategies for change to address areas of unmet need.

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$5 million boost for Otago team’s quest to restore fertility in women with disabling ovary disorder

Christine Jasoni, Rebecca Campbell, Greg Anderson image
Associate Professor Christine Jasoni, Associate Professor Rebecca Campbell and Professor Greg Anderson.

The team led by Associate Professor Rebecca Campbell from the University’s Centre for Neuroendocrinology, Brain Health Research Centre, and Department of Physiology has received a significant boost with an almost $5 million grant from the Health Research Council.  Their ultimate goal is to restore fertility in women suffering Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Associate Professor Campbell is one of five researchers from around the country who have received sizeable grants totalling just under $25 million as part of the Council’s funding for long-term programmes. She receives $4,999,604 over five years.

Associate Professor Campbell says she and her colleagues in the research team are delighted to receive the grant which will enable them to do a lot of work because of the long-term certainty of funding.

“We couldn’t be happier. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to carry out this important work."

Read the full story in the media release:
$5 million boost for Otago team’s quest to restore fertility in women with disabling ovary disorder

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Divisional Associate Dean update

Associate Professor Lois Surgenor has been appointed Divisional Associate Dean (Academic) following the retirement of Associate Professor Pat Cragg in late May. The Associate Dean role has taken on a more strategic rather than operational focus in providing advice and leadership on academic matters across the Division. Lois is based at the UOC (Psychological Medicine), but travels to Dunedin and Wellington on a regular basis. She vacates the position of Divisional Associate Dean (Postgraduate Studies) which has now been taken up by Professor Alison Rich. Professor Rich is based in Dunedin (Dentistry) and has extensive and senior experience in academic administration and advising. Both Associate Deans very much look forward to working with and supporting staff.

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Appointment of Associate Dean Pacific, Faculty of Dentistry

Welcoming Dr Ratu Osea Gavidi by Dentistry staff and students image
Ratu Dr Osea Gavidi (second from left), Alison Meldrum (centre), Professor Paul Brunton (second from right) with students from the Faculty of Dentistry.

Osea Gavidi and Tai Sopoaga thumbnailRatu Dr Osea Gavidi with Faumuina Associate Professor Faafetai Sopoaga.

A Pacific celebration was held on Wednesday 23 May to acknowledge Ratu Dr Osea Gavidi’s appointment to the role of Associate Dean Pacific (ADP) for the Faculty of Dentistry. The celebration was jointly hosted by Va’a o Tautai and the Faculty of Dentistry, with support from Fijian community members, staff and students. In his speech, Ratu Dr Osea spoke of the historical significance of his appointment as an indigenous iTaukei to the role of ADP, which comes seven decades after the first indigenous Fijian dentist graduated from the University of Otago in 1944.

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Pacific International Health Symposium (PIHS) 2018

The Centre for Pacific Health, Va'a o Tautai, is holding a two-day Pacific International Health Symposium (PIHS) in Dunedin on 29-30 November 2018. Planning for this event is now well underway. Confirmed speakers include Professor Robert Beaglehole, Aiono Professor Alec Ekeroma, Dr Rosalina Richards Hessell, Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu and Dr Colin Tukuitonga.

The PIHS 2018 is intended as a forum for researchers, teachers, those working in the health and development sector, and others engaged in the Pacific health space to come together and share their ideas and experiences. Otago staff and students are warmly invited to submit 200 - 300 word abstracts on any subject related to the symposium theme of Strengthening Partnerships for Pacific Health, e.g. this might include research on NCDs, CDs, and emerging issues that are important for the health of Pacific peoples in New Zealand and the Pacific region.

Abstracts can be submitted by email to or via the PIHS website

As spaces for this event are limited, those wanting to attend are encouraged to register their interest early via the ‘Join Us’ page of the website.

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Otago Spotlight Series: Infectious Disease Research

Infectious disease virus thumbnailWe invite you to join us for our infectious disease research forum.

Tuesday 11 September 2018, Nordmeyer Lecture Theatre, Wellington campus

Health Sciences researchers will be in the spotlight providing lay-friendly outlines of their work to fellow researchers and invited guests, including funders, policymakers, clinicians, research institutions, and community and government agencies. This will be a great end-user networking opportunity.

Student poster competition

A poster competition will be held for students involved in infectious disease research in Wellington the evening before the forum (Monday 10 September). Students are asked to clearly communicate their research methodology and findings to others who may not be a specialist in their field. Finalists will present their work to the forum audience on Tuesday for final judging. A first prize of up to $750, plus up to three others prizes of $250 are on offer.

Some travel awards are available for Christchurch and Dunedin staff and students to attend. Please contact your dean to signal your interest ASAP.

All students funded to attend the meeting are expected to enter the poster competition.

For registration email

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Union of International Cancer Control (UICC) membership

Di SarfatiThe University of Otago has joined the Union of International Cancer Control (UICC). It is the largest International NGO working in the field of cancer control and works closely with the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer. UICC has over 1000 members globally, including the world’s major cancer societies, ministries of health, research and treatment institutes, patient groups, and industry leaders.

The UICC hosts the biennial World Cancer Congress which is being held in Kuala Lumpur in October. Members of the UICC receive special benefits including the opportunity to present their work to, and network with, a large international audience. The UICC also funds technical fellowships and translational research grants for member organisations, and offers opportunities to collaborate internationally.

The University of Otago is the only academic member of the UICC in New Zealand. Its membership provides Otago with an enhanced ability to work internationally and collaborate with other organisations to influence the global agenda on cancer control, to support the development of emerging cancer leaders within Otago, and to increase the reach of our research and cancer-related initiatives.

Contact Professor Diana Sarfati

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Two postdoctoral fellowships awarded

The Health Sciences Career Development Programme offers postdoctoral fellowships to outstanding Health Sciences graduates who have recently completed a degree at doctoral level. The successful applicants from the May 2018 round are Dr Sarah McKenzie, and Dr Nadia Mitchell.

Information about postdoctoral fellowships

Dr Sarah McKenzie, Suicide and Mental Health Research Group, UOW

Sarah McKenzie thumbnailDr Sarah McKenzie recently finished her PhD using masculinities theory to examine men’s everyday mental health experiences, the relationship between men’s emotional practices, social relationships and mental health outcomes, and the links between masculinity and men’s mental health promotion strategies. Professor Sunny Collings is supervising Sarah.

Dr Nadia Mitchell, Radiology, UOC

Nadia Mitchell thumbnailDr Nadia Mitchell is working on a treatment for Batten disease, a fatal inherited childhood neurodegenerative disorder. She leads preclinical gene therapy trials in two naturally occurring sheep models of the disease. Nadia is supervised by Professor Anthony Butler.

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Chaffer Visiting Fellowship applications open

The purpose of the fellowship is to further medical progress and research by providing funds which will be the means of encouraging visits to the Otago Medical School by distinguished overseas scientists or clinicians.

Chaffer Visiting Fellowships are awarded by invitation from the University on the recommendation of the Dean of the Otago Medical School.

The visiting fellow will be attached to a university department in the Division of Health Sciences, with a preference for Otago Medical School Departments.

The tenure of the fellowship is for a minimum of one week and a maximum of three weeks.

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Is teaching transgender healthcare your cup of tea?

TEACUP Transgender Education Community of Practice

Transgender healthcare presentation slide with speakers image copy
Dr Althea Gamble Blakey and Dr Gareth Treharne with their conference presentation.

In May, Dr Althea Gamble Blakey (Otago Medical School), and Dr Gareth Treharne (Department of Psychology), presented their research on teaching about transgender healthcare at the Critical Health Education Studies Conference (CHESS) in Queenstown. This conference brought together academics interested in debating dominant health education discourses.

Their presentation I’m not an expert: Why is transgender healthcare overlooked in medical education? described extensive focus group research involving teaching staff and transgender community members, who debated barriers to developing world-leading ways of co-teaching about transgender healthcare.

Results indicated that medical teachers and community members both felt a lack of sufficient expertise to teach alone about transgender healthcare. Teachers described limited background knowledge on transgender identities and healthcare, yet eagerness to apply their broad teaching expertise. Transgender community members were keen to tell their stories but emphasised how teaching about transgender healthcare must reflect the diversity of experiences and identities among transgender people. Both teaching staff and transgender community members recognised the sensitivity of transgender issues as inherently part of ‘who someone is’ and a topic requiring careful planning to teach well.


Drs Gamble Blakey and Treharne founded the Transgender EducAtion CommUnity of Practice (TEACUP) research group. The team, including transgender community members, research barriers to teaching transgender healthcare issues to medical students and how to develop community-led teaching. These community members donate their expertise to TEACUP and also support others within the local transgender community.

TEACUP will shortly begin the next research segment. Teachers and community members will co-teach health professional students in small groups, evaluate ways staff development might help teachers and community members overcome barriers to teaching, and determine the effectiveness of co-teaching health professional students.

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Dunedin School of Medicine

Southland Campus Lecture Series

On the 7th of June, the Dunedin School of Medicine’s Southland Campus, in association with the Southern DHB, hosted the inaugural Southland Lecture Series featuring Associate Professor Konrad Richter and Dr Chris Jackson.

Presenting to a full house in the newly completed Education Centre, Drs Jackson and Richter spoke on the Challenges and Modern Management of Colorectal Cancer, an important topic for Southland which has one of the highest incidences of colorectal cancer in the world at 21.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

Future public lectures from Southland Hospital medical staff in collaboration with the Dunedin School of Medicine will address current health-related, social, and other topics. These forums will also provide the community with the opportunity to get to know their local doctors, nurses, allied health staff, and management.

Associate Professor Richter said, "We are fortunate to have a very strong relationship between the University and the DHB; a real community of clinicians and others in the health care system who are passionate about research and education. The Education Centre gives us the chance to open our doors and invite the wider public into our conversations, and we look forward to welcoming them to Southland Hospital."

More about the Southland Campus Lecture Series

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DSM Postgraduate Poster Competition

Poster Competition winners with Professor Barry Taylor image
From left: Antonio Ahn, Joshua Harris, DSM Dean Professor Barry Taylor, Sarah Donald, and Ashley Holland.

On 30th May, DSM held its annual Postgraduate Poster Competition, where 20 students competed for top prizes. Held in conjunction with the Health Research Excellence Awards, the event attracted a wide ranging audience from both the School and the Southern DHB. DSM warmly congratulates the winners of the top prizes: Antonio Ahn, Joshua Harris, Sarah Donald, and Ashley Holland pictured with DSM Dean, Professor Barry Taylor.

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Health Research Excellence Awards

The Health Research Excellence Awards are held annually to celebrate the ongoing and unique research partnership between the Dunedin School of Medicine and the Southern District Health Board, recognising outstanding research both within the University and hospital settings.

This year’s premium grant of $100,000 was awarded for a novel idea by Dunedin Hospital clinicians to use naturalistic light to improve patients’ sleep quality, and recovery. Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine Dr Ben Brockway, Psychogeriatrician Associate Professor Yoram Barak and Assistant Research Fellow Kristina Aluzaite won the Health Service Delivery Grant to investigate whether installing lights that mimic natural sunlight would create a better environment for both patients and staff.

Several studies have demonstrated natural light having a dramatic effect on measures of health, recovery and well-being. According to the researchers, there is evidence that rooms receiving morning sunlight result in shorter hospital stays for patients with depression, while patients recovering from heart attacks staying in sunny rooms had better rates of recovery and lower mortality than those staying in dull rooms.

Researchers and clinicians honoured in Research Excellence Awards (DSM news)

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Dunedin School of Medicine HRC success

DSM warmly congratulates the following researchers who were awarded almost $4.4 million in this year’s HRC awards:

Professor Haxby Abbott, Department of Surgical Sciences
The primary care management and impact of osteoarthritis: learning from big data

Professor Michael Eccles, Department of Pathology
Epigenomic profiling to predict patient response to melanoma immunotherapy

Dr Rebecca Brookland, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine
Predictors and impact of driving cessation on older adults and whanau / families

Professor Timothy Stokes, Department of General Practice and Rural Health
Do regional DHB groupings improve service integration and health outcomes?

Read the project summaries in the General News section.

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DSM steps up to palliative care crisis

Dunedin School of Medicine palliative medicine and end-of-life care module convener Ms Lis Latta has been fielding much media interest of late surrounding the palliative care sector’s lack of palliative care specialists. This is expected to become more of an issue as both New Zealand's population and current practitioners age.

Ms Latta said in 20 years, more than half of all deaths would be in people aged 85 years old and older - and the leading place of death would be in a rest-home, rather than in hospital. Changes were introduced at the University of Otago in 2012, but palliative care education was still developing, and a meeting between the Otago and Auckland universities would be held next month to discuss a collaborative approach.

Medical schools team up to face palliative care 'crisis'  (ODT website)

Medical students training for end-of-life-care 'woeful' (Radio NZ website)

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Faculty of Dentistry

Fellowship for Dr Momen Atieh

Momen AtiehThe International Team for Implantology (ITI) has recently approved the Fellowship nomination of Dr Momen Atieh.

The ITI is a global association that unites a network of professionals in implant dentistry and aims to promote professional development, knowledge sharing, and support of research in implant dentistry and related fields.

Fellows are regarded as the 'leaders' of the ITI. Fellows have broad responsibility to the ITI as a whole and attend the Annual General Meetings, which is open exclusively to Fellows. They also contribute to discussions on matters that affect the ITI and have the right to vote on decisions.

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School of Biomedical Sciences

Department of Biochemistry

Firstly the good news!

Big congratulations to Peter Mace and Sally McCormick on their HRC grants, announced this month.

In May we announced the inaugural winners of the Joan Mary Anderson Award in Plant Sciences: Caitlin Elborough, Miriam Hunt, and Caitlin Harris. This new award is funded by a gift to the Department of Biochemistry from the estate of the late Professor 'Jan' Anderson, and goes to "the student(s) with a strong interest in plant biochemistry, and who show(s) greatest promise in contributing to plant science". Prof Anderson was a plant biochemist who studied the molecular basis of photosynthesis, and was the first New Zealand woman to be admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. The RSNZ subsequently published an article on her on their website.
Professor Jan Anderson: First New Zealand-born female Fellow of the Royal Society of London (Royal Society Website)

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Then the not-so-good news

We farewelled Robyn Thomson at the end of May, and will be saying goodbye to Tony Zaharic in July. Both Robyn and Tony are well known to BMS staff, Robyn as Biochemistry’s 'front of house', and Tony as the person in charge of our first-year paper BIOC 192.

Robyn has been a key member of our administrative team for the last fourteen years, and has decided to leave us for the warmer climate of Queensland, although we have talked her into returning for a couple of months later on in the year to help ease us through the second semester.

Tony Zaharic has taken up a new position as 'Assessment Convenor for Early Learning in Medicine' at the Medical School, where he begins working in early July. Tony started in the BIOC 192 team as a teaching fellow in 2002, and took over the role of paper coordinator in 2003. He has been an immensely popular and successful teacher, having won OUSA teaching awards on many occasions, a University of Otago Excellence in Teaching Award, and a National Excellence in Tertiary Teaching Award. Tony will be succeeded as BIOC 192 coordinator by Annika Bokor, who was featured in the most recent BMS Talking Teaching (Vol 1, Issue 3), and who is so popular that the students created a fan Facebook page for her a couple of years ago. We are indeed lucky to have such depth in our teaching team that we can wish Tony the best of luck in his new job with the confidence that BIOC 192 will continue in good hands.

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School of Pharmacy

2018 University of Otago Early Career Award winner, Dr Allan Gamble

Allan Gamble imageCongratulations to our Senior Lecturer, Dr Allan Gamble who has been announced a winner of the 2018 Early Career Award for Distinction in Research. Allan has made an outstanding contribution to research at the University of Otago. His primary research interests are the design and synthesis of biologically active molecules for the treatment of chronic and infectious disease. His current research focuses on new technologies for targeted drug delivery and medicinal chemistry.

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College Visits

Staff and students have been visiting colleges over the months of May and June to discuss the pharmacy profession with students and the career options available to them. This is the second year the school has made an effort to engage in this way, and we are happy to see an increase in interest from both colleges and their students.

Thank you to all the colleges who have encouraged and facilitated our visits and for inviting us to dine with you! Our Otago Alumni staff and students particularly enjoyed visiting their own colleges, to share their knowledge and experience of pharmacy.

Thank you to our students for your enthusiastic support and willingness to volunteer: Jemma Fielding, Joey Chan, Mitchell Smith, Sophie Elliot-Buma, Ruby Gallavin, Hannah Potter, Jen Allen, Diana Shaul, Nadine King, Phuong Le, Cayla Ulyatt, Lucy Lu, Christy Blythen, Lasweni Sivaraman and Alex Henkel.

Future college visits:

  • Caroline Freeman College, Tuesday 10th July at 6:30 pm
  • Arana College, Tuesday 17th July at 7:30 pm
  • St Margaret’s College, Thursday 2nd August at 6:30 pm
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Pharmacy newsletter

Volume 3 Issue 1 of the School of Pharmacy newsletter is now available.

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Congratulations to our staff and students

  • Congratulations to Professor Stephen Duffull who has been appointed as the new Associate Dean Postgraduate Programmes and Research, commencing 1 July 2018. Thank you to Professor Sarah Hook for her service in the research role.
  • Congratulations to Dr Allan Gamble who has been appointed to the Examination Coordinator role – taking over from Dr James Green. Thanks to James for his service in this role.
  • Congratulations to Professor Pauline Norris on successfully obtaining the Health Research Council of $1,035,525 to conduct a randomised controlled trial of prescription charges, over a 36-month period, to see whether removing charges would improve people’s health.
  • Congratulations to David Woods who has been invited again to deliver a 2-week course in clinical pharmacology and pharmacy at the Karaganda Stage Medical University (KSMU), in Kazakhstan.
  • Congratulations to PhD student Amber Young, who has been awarded a $1000 travel scholarship from Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust to attend the National Medicine Symposium in Canberra.
  • Congratulations to Greg Walker, Bettina Poller and Anita Fallah for securing funding of $103,172.00 through the Ministry of Primary Industries for their Bioactive Nano-webs for Pest Control technology.
  • Congratulations to our PhD students who graduated in May: Dr Anna Cooper, Dr Nagham Ailabouni, Dr Patti Napier and Dr Vanda Symon.
  • Congratulations to Jessica Tan who received her Post Graduate Diploma in Clinical Pharmacy (PGDipClinPharm).
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It is with regret that we say farewell to our staff:

  • Senior Lecturer, Dr James Green. Thank you for your 12 years’ of service to the school.
  • Denise Botting, our Research Administrator and PA to Associate Dean (Academic). Thank you for your 14 years of service.
  • Sarah Wilson, Postgraduate Administrator (Postgraduate Professional Programmes). Thank you for your 9 years of service.
  • Amanda Bradley, EA to the Dean. Amanda has joined the team at Ask Otago. Thank you for your 2 years of service.
  • Gwen Slote, Academic and Finance Administrator. Gwen has been confirmed into a Finance Associate role with the Finance Advisory team. Thank you for your 4 years service.


It is with great pleasure we welcome a new member to our professional staff, Bridget Morton who joins us temporarily as PA to the Dean and Undergraduate administration support.

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Teddy Bear Hospital

NZAPS-O members volunteered at the annual Teddy Bear Hospital providing children with pieces of fruit, prescribed for their teddies by their OUMSA 'doctors'. This is one event of many for our NZAPS-O. Visit their website for more recent news and photographs:

Pharmacy students dispense medicines for teddies with prescriptions
Pharmacy students dispense 'medicines' for teddies with prescriptions at the Teddy Bear Hospital.

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School of Physiotherapy

International Science Festival: Pain in children and young people

Associate Professor Steve Kamper image
Associate Professor Steve Kamper.

As part of the International Science Festival, Pain@Otago research theme will be hosting a panel discussion on Pain in children and young people.

Date: 6-7.30pm on Wednesday 11 July
Venue: St David Lecture Theatre, or online via Zoom (

More about the event:

Associate Professor Steve Kamper (University of Sydney), will be a guest speaker at the panel event. During his visit to Otago Steve will also be hosting a number of other events:
Steve Kamper's visits Pain@Otago 10 - 13 July

If you would like to become a member of pain@otago, contact us:

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University of Otago, Christchurch

Staff share research expertise

Many University of Otago, Christchurch, staff shared their expertise with the public in the past few months. This includes:

Vicky Cameron prsenting to an audience
Professor Vicky Cameron speaks about the risk of heart disease at the Health Precinct 'We're talking health' event.

A number of staff also shared their expertise at an evening of public health talks, organised by the Health Precinct. This includes talks on the next generation of medical scanner (invented by a University of Otago Professor); anorexia nervosa; bowel cancer; and heart disease.

Paediatric screening

Medical student and young patientOur medical students are involved in the Canterbury community. One example is the annual paediatric screening the fourth year students do at a kura kaupapa. This Bulletin story explains what they do, and how our medical students and kura students benefit.
Te Reo and medicine combine in Christchurch kura visit (Otago Bulletin)

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University of Otago, Wellington

New Zealand leads call to improve health for indigenous people globally

Speakers and Chairs Cancer and Indigenous peoples Symposium image

An open letter published in the June issue of leading international medical journal, Lancet Oncology, calls on the World Health Organization (WHO) and Governments to prioritise health improvements for Indigenous peoples worldwide.

Improving the health of Indigenous people globally (Lancet Oncology)

New Zealand has joined forces with Australian and Pacific colleagues to challenge the WHO to increase its focus in a call for Indigenous health rights. Cancer experts and Indigenous health leaders have joined together to push for an international step change in cancer control for indigenous people.

Read more:
New Zealand leads call to improve health for indigenous people globally (UOW news)

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International agreement provides Otago with opportunity to shape global cancer agenda

IARC agreement document being signed by three parties thumbnailIn a New Zealand first, the University of Otago has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
“The new relationship will result in further research opportunities as well as put Otago in an excellent position to take a key role in helping to shape the global cancer agenda through these additional links with the agency,” says Professor Diana Sarfati, who in late April signed the agreement on behalf of the University of Otago, Wellington, in Lyon, France.

Read more:
International agreement provides Otago with opportunity to shape global cancer agenda (UOW news)

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Cold New Zealand council housing getting an upgrade

Lara Rangiwhetu thumbnailUniversity of Otago, Wellington (UOW) researchers are advocating for standards to bring all New Zealand housing up to the World Health Organization minimum standard of recommended indoor temperature of 18°C.

The Wellington City Council is part way through a 20-year programme to upgrade its social housing, co-funded by the Clark Labour government. One aim is to make the housing warmer and drier, and the Council is working with the University researchers to check if this is happening.

A study, just published in the journal Policy Quarterly, led by Lara Rangiwhetu from He Kainga Oranga / Housing and Health Research Programme at the University of Otago, Wellington, has looked at 49 homes in Council Housing in Wellington (pre-upgrade) and confirmed that they were too cold.

Read more:
Cold New Zealand council housing getting an upgrade (UOW news)

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HRC grant to study toxic moulds in NZ houses

Julian Crane thumbnailProfessor Julian Crane and his research team have received Health Research Council funding to study whether toxic moulds are a health hazard in New Zealand homes. Previous University of Otago research has shown that people who live in cold, damp homes – most of which are mouldy – have much higher rates of respiratory problems such as asthma, colds and influenza. But what is not known is exactly why these homes give people more breathing problems, Professor Crane says. “We know that quite a lot of these leaky homes grow mould that produce mycotoxins, our question is ‘do they cause the breathing problems’? Could it be that very small amounts of these mycotoxins are causing inflammatory problems in the airways which lead to coughs, wheezing and an increased risk of colds?”

Read more:
Almost $19 million awarded to Otago researchers in Health Research Council funding (Media release)

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Study aiming to improve New Zealand’s low breastfeeding rates

Baby breastfeeding thumbnailUniversity of Otago, Wellington (UOW) researchers are leading a new collaborative study to find out why New Zealand breastfeeding rates are so low and even dropping.

The study will investigate the reasons why New Zealand’s breastfeeding rates are poor and declining, particularly for Māori, and will work with stakeholders across multiple sectors to identify policy solutions.

The research will have women’s voices as the starting point for the research to develop new policy solutions to improve breastfeeding rates. It also aims to strengthen collaboration across sectors to achieve better focused and proactive policy direction. The researchers worked together with relevant sector groups, in particular the New Zealand Breastfeeding Alliance (NZBA), to design the project.

Study aiming to improve New Zealand’s low breastfeeding rates (UOW news)

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Safety warning labels needed on fresh chicken, say researchers

Researchers with fresh chicken labelling thumbnailNew research has found that many New Zealand consumers are unaware of the high levels of Campylobacter contamination of fresh chicken and most want safety labelling about the risks on poultry products.

A University of Otago, Wellington study of consumers, published in the international journal BMC Public Health, found that only 15 per cent of consumers were aware that most (60-90 per cent) of fresh chicken meat for sale in New Zealand is contaminated with Campylobacter. This bacteria causes campylobacteriosis, a severe form of gastroenteritis that hospitalises around 600 New Zealanders each year and paralyses an estimated 30 others with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

The researchers also assessed the quality of current chicken labelling in supermarkets and butcheries and identified major deficiencies in the safety information provided to consumers, with butchery labels in particular lacking any chicken preparation information.

Food safety labelling of chicken to prevent campylobacteriosis: consumer expectations and current practices (BMC Public Health)
Safety warning labels needed on fresh chicken, say researchers (UOW news)

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Rheumatic Fever and Penicillin research in NZ contributing to global Penicillin reformulation efforts

Dianne Sika-Paotonu thumbnailA University of Otago, Wellington (UOW) Pacific biomedical researcher Dr Dianne Sika Paotonu, is leading a NZ-based project to support global efforts to reformulate of a type of Penicillin known as Benzathine Penicillin G usually given to children and young persons with Rheumatic Fever. The study has been designed to find out more about the pharmacokinetics of BPG which is administered as painful monthly injections for 10 years or more to children and young people who have had Acute Rheumatic Fever (ARF) previously, to prevent recurrent ARF episodes that could potentially lead to Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD). This type of Pharmacology research work would usually require large blood volumes from participants. Thanks to research teams in Australia, this work can now be carried out using finger prick samples instead, which is highly preferable to other methods requiring larger blood volumes in children.

It is recognised that Māori and Pacific peoples in New Zealand are affected disproportionately by ARF/RHD. This is the first study seeking to explore the pharmacokinetics of BPG in a Paediatric population of predominantly Māori and Pacific children and young people with ARF. It will provide information to support development of a new type of BPG that is less painful and more appropriate to prevent ARF/RHD.

Read more:
Pioneering NZ study to aid war on rheumatic fever (ODT website)

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Upcoming events at UOW include

Seminar | Capsule cigarettes: How could product innovation undermine the 2025 goal?

Friday, 29 June 2018 at 12:30pm - University of Otago, Wellington | 23a Mein Street, Newtown | Level D. Join us in person or by webinar for this public health lunchtime talk hosted by the University of Otago, Wellington. Presented by Janet Hoek.

2018 Otago Spotlight Series: Infectious Disease Research

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 Nordmeyer Lecture Theatre, University of Otago Wellington, 23A Mein Street. Join us for a day of short, accessible presentations from international leaders and emerging investigators in infectious disease research.

8th International Conference on Energy and Environment of Residential Buildings (ICEERB 2018)

Monday, 19 November 2018 Wellington, New Zealand (venue details TBC). In 2018 the 8th International Conference on Energy and Environment of Residential Buildings comes to Wellington, New Zealand, with an overarching theme of housing sustainability in urban areas.