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Pulse 71: January / February 2019

Tuesday 26 February 2019 4:59pm

PVC's welcome

Professor Paul Brunton image
Professor Paul Brunton.

Kia ora koutou katoa,


A very warm welcome back to the start of the 2019 academic year.

I trust you all had an enjoyable and refreshing break and have come back energised and ready for the challenges and opportunities 2019 will present for us. I have no doubt it will be another successful year for the Division.

An emphasis for me this year will be increasing our international focus and following through on the programme business case to ensure that we have a robust long-term plan to improve our infrastructure across the three campuses. Improving our environment is essential if we are to deliver our long-term plans for student growth and world-class research facilities. In tandem with this the new hospital project is developing apace in Dunedin and by working together we should realise an academic health precinct we can all be proud of.

It is also a very special year for the university as we celebrate our 150th anniversary. Can I encourage you all to attend events throughout the year and make this year one to remember.

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate all our new Professors, Associate Professors and Research Associate Professors and to all those who achieved advancement in the most recent promotion round.

Congratulations, too, to Professor Andre van Rij, Department of Surgical Services, Dunedin School of Medicine on receiving an ONZM in the 2019 New Year Honours for services to health, particularly vascular surgery, and to Professor Peter Crampton, Kōhatu, Centre for Hauora Māori, Dunedin School of Medicine who received a CNZM for services to education and health services.

In closing can I wish you all a rewarding and productive year.

Professor Paul Brunton
Pro-Vice-Chancellor
Division of Health Sciences

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General news 

Marsden funding success

Twelve projects across the Division of Health Sciences secured standard funding from the Marsden Fund in 2018; a further eight received Fast-Start Marsden funding. Overall, researchers across the Division were awarded more than $13.2 million in the funding round. Congratulations to all.
See details here:
Marsden fund success for 2018

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Academic promotions

Professorial appointments

  • Peter Fineran, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Jeremy Krebs, Department of Medicine, University of Otago, Wellington
  • Alister Neill, Department of Medicine, University of Otago, Wellington
  • Lynette Sadleir, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Otago, Wellington
  • Michael Schultz, Department of Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine (DSM)
  • Lois Surgenor, Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch.

Associate Professors

  • Angela Ballantyne, Primary Healthcare and General Practice, University of Otago, Wellington
  • Maria Stubbe, Primary Healthcare and General Practice, University of Otago, Wellington
  • Rebecca Grainger, Pathology and Molecular Medicine, University of Otago, Wellington
  • Kirk Hamilton, Physiology, School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Peter Jones, Physiology, School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Alexander Tups, Physiology, School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Stephanie Hughes, Biochemistry, School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Elizabeth Ledgerwood, Biochemistry, School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Joanna Kirman, Microbiology and Immunology, School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Joanna Williams, Department of Anatomy, School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Stephanie Woodley, Department of Anatomy, School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Heather Brooks, Department of Pathology, Dunedin School of Medicine
  • Lianne Parkin, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine
  • Nicola Swain, Department of Psychological Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine
  • Arlene McDowell, School of Pharmacy
  • Gisela Sole, School of Physiotherapy

Research Associate Professor

  • Ricci Harris, Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington
  • James Stanley, Dean’s Department, University of Otago, Wellington
  • Yiwen Zheng, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, School of Biomedical Sciences
  • Kirsten Coppell, Department of Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine
  • Logan Walker, Department of Pathology and Biomedical Science, University of Otago, Christchurch
  • Jacqueline Keenan, Department of Surgery, University of Otago, Christchurch

Read more in the University’s media release:

University of Otago announces academic promotions

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Spotlight on cancer

Cancer Conference special guests image 650
From left: Health Minister Hon Dr David Clark, Professor Diana Sarfati, head of the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington, and Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield at the conference.

A ground-breaking conference organised by the University of Otago, Wellington and the Cancer Society has seen an assurance from Health Minister, the Hon Dr David Clark, that the government will develop a national cancer action plan with the aim of giving patients access to equitable and nationally-consistent cancer treatment.

Dr Clark told the Cancer Care at a Crossroads Conference at Te Papa on January 31 that the event offered a chance for all involved to work together to solve the country’s cancer problems. He spoke following a talk by Blair Vining, a Southland father with terminal bowel cancer and his wife Melissa who told Dr Clark the government had failed their family by not having a cancer plan.

The conference opened at Parliament on January 30, with personal testimonies from singer-songwriter Ladyhawke telling her personal story of battling melanoma and former New Zealand cricket coach Mike Hesson talking about how his family was affected by cancer.

The conference was the biggest cancer planning meeting to be held in New Zealand since 1999.

Read the University’s media release:
Cancer Society calls for an end to DHB-led cancer care

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Thanks for your feedback

Thank you to those who completed the recent survey on the content and layout of the Pulse newsletter. We were very pleased with the number of responses and we’ll use your feedback to help inform any changes we make in the future. Watch this space ...

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Students get their hands on Health Sciences

Secondary School students participate in Hands-On activities image
Secondary school students discover some of the many facets of health sciences in the 2019 Hands-On week.

Some lab spaces were humming even before many staff returned from the summer holidays, with full-to-capacity Hands-On projects across the Division of Health Sciences in Dunedin in the week beginning January 14.

In keeping with past years, the Health Science projects were over-subscribed with Year 12 and 13 students wanting to get a feel for what it might be like to study at the University of Otago.

Health Sciences projects on offer included those from Anatomy, Biochemistry, Genetics, Immunology, Microbiology, Pharmacology, Pharmacy and Physiology.

A number of departments also offered 'snacks’ in the Hands-On programme – shorter, afternoon tasters, designed to give a snapshot of what happens in an area. New to the programme was the Faculty of Dentistry’s ‘snack’ where students got to try their skills in the dental SIM clinic.

Hands-On Coordinator Dee Roben says the Health Science offerings are a “definite drawcard” for the secondary school students and more than half of the Year 13 students who sign up for Health Science projects end up enrolling at Otago.

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CHeST symposium

The Centre for Health Systems and Technology (CHeST) annual symposium was held on 20 February.

CHeST is a cross-campus University of Otago Research Theme and the one-day symposium was aimed at highlighting key health systems, services and technology research, and policy questions for 2019 and beyond. It featured a mix of policy-makers, service providers, and researchers.

Co-Director, and Dean of the Otago Business School, Professor Robin Gauld said there was a good turnout of attendees from across the University, along with a number of health sector leaders and service providers from the Southern District, including District Health Board, WellSouth PHO and the CEO of Clutha Health First.

“The event was a strong illustration of the depth and breadth of health systems, services and technology research at Otago and, particularly, that CHeST arguably is the largest and strongest group working in this field in New Zealand.

“There is much work to be done in terms of bringing together researchers, policy makers and service providers in New Zealand across a number of topics and service delivery issues, in a strong partnership”, Professor Gauld said.

Fellow Co-Director and Head of the Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Dunedin School of Medicine, Professor Tim Stokes agrees.

Professor Stokes said health research funders, the Ministry of Health and DHBs need to breathe life into the NZ Health Research Strategy which clearly outlines the need to support the work of CHeST.

“There is considerable potential for partnerships between university researchers, policy makers and health service providers, which are far from being delivered upon”, Professor Stokes said.
The pair agree there is a need to build on CHeST and its vision. They say keynote speaker, Dr Jean-Frederic Levesque, Chief Executive of the NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation in Australia, reinforced the importance of implementation science and the CHeST’s overarching theme of implementing integrated care.

Dr Jean-Frederic Levesque presenting to the audience image
Dr Jean-Frederic Levesque, one of the keynote speakers at the CHeST symposium.

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New look for Biostatistics on Dunedin campus

Biostatistics web page imageThe Biostatistics Unit in Dunedin has been renamed the Centre for Biostatistics and now sits as a stand-alone entity in the Division of Health Sciences.

And it has launched a new website that reflects the changes:
Centre for Biostatistics

Director, Associate Professor Robin Turner says the purpose of the group remains the same – to provide high quality advice and collaboration to researchers in health science disciplines.

And she encourages researchers to get in touch early for assistance, even if their proposal isn’t fully formed.

To request assistance go to the request form:
Biostatistics support request form

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Book launch: Life, Death and Love in a Hospital

The complexities of life in a crumbling hospital have been captured in Admissions; Tales of life, death and love in a hospital not far from here, the first work of fiction by former obstetrician gynaecologist Dr Mira Harrison.

The book – which charts the stories of eight women who work as doctors, nurses, cooks and cleaners to keep a struggling institution operational – was launched at Dunedin Public Hospital’s Barnett lecture theatre in December.

Dr Harrison says she drew on her own experiences working in hospitals in the UK and New Zealand to create these fictional tales, and early reviews by friends and colleagues suggested she had hit upon some important themes.

“A nurse - who had worked as a theatre sister for thirty years - said she felt she knew every character in Admissions; a pathologist commented that she knew these intimate stories were truthful; and others told me their own personal stories reflected the experiences of the eight women in this book.”

New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service Director Dr Mavis Duncanson introduced the book at the launch, and commended Dr Harrison on identifying how, though only part of the healthcare system, hospitals are places characterised by complex “interactive interpersonal system[s].”

“Mira’s work clearly articulates how important women are to the functioning of this complex organism. A key theme is the way women are constantly required to negotiate and juggle the ever present, and ever changing, balance between professional and private lives. Mira brings to this work her astute observational skills and knowledge of our common humanity and shared experiences, as women and as health professionals.

“I was enthralled at the way Admissions captured the breadth and depth of life within and around the institution of a hospital,” she said.

While she has written two medical books (Medicines for Women and An Introduction to Pharmacovigilance) Dr Harrison says she loves writing fiction best and has plans to write more stories in future.

Publisher, author and speaker at the book launch image
Admissions' publisher Roger Steele (from Steele Roberts Aotearoa), Dr Mira Harrison and New Zealand Child and Youth Epidemiology Service Director Dr Mavis Duncanson.

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Dunedin School of Medicine

Department of Medicine

Focus on Fibre and Food Monitoring symposium

The presenters who spoke about fibre imageFibre chairs and presenters from left: Paul Moughan (Massey University), Andrew Reynolds (University of Otago), Jim Mann (University of Otago), Lisa Te Morenga (Victoria University of Wellington), John Cummings (University of Dundee), Michael Schultz (University of Otago), Stewart Truswell (University of Sydney).

The Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre, along with the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge and The Riddet Institute, a National Centre of Research Excellence, co-hosted a research symposium and two workshops on 11–12 February, at the Hutton Theatre, Otago Museum.

The Focus on Fibre and Food Monitoring symposium examined two topical aspects of human nutrition and health:

  • The role of dietary fibre in preventing and treating non-communicable diseases
  • The importance of knowing what New Zealanders eat to inform health research and policy

International dietary fibre expert Professor John Cummings (University of Dundee), along with Australian-based Tracy Hambridge (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) and Emeritus Professor Stewart Truswell (University of Sydney), were joined by an excellent line-up of New Zealand speakers, many of them from the University of Otago.

The presentations were followed by two workshops. The Fibre workshop focused on the current dietary fibre research being undertaken in New Zealand, and identified ideas for new research initiatives. The workshop on Food Monitoring discussed the urgent action required to update our national nutrition survey data, now a decade old and for children nearly two decades old.

The presentations were recorded and will be available on the EDOR website shortly.

The team of Food Monitoring presenters imageFood Monitoring chairs and presenters from left: Rosalind Gibson (University of Otago), Lisa Houghton (University of Otago), Jenny Reid (MPI), Kathryn Bradbury (University of Auckland), Winsome Parnell (University of Otago), Tracy Hambridge (FASNZ), Claire Smith (University of Otago), Rachael McLean (University of Otago), Sally Mackay (University of Auckland).

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Department of Psychological Medicine

New external grants

Dr Sarah Fortune has recently been awarded three grants for her research on suicide.

  • Cure Kids Foundation: Aotearoa Self-harm Hospital Study: Sentinel surveillance of paediatric self-harm in New Zealand
  • Oakley Mental Health Foundation: How accurate are Coronial findings of suicide as an estimate of the true rate of suicide in Aotearoa / New Zealand? Implications for prevention
  • Deans Bequest: Why do people choose hanging as a method of suicide in Aotearoa / New Zealand?


New staff

Dr Maria Kleinstaeuber, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist. Maria’s research is on medically unexplained symptoms and she also holds a half-time position with the SDHB in the Chronic Pain Team.


New appointments

Dr Tess Patterson has taken over as Head of Behavioural Science. Professor Kate Scott has taken over as Head of Department.

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Faculty of Dentistry

Sir John Walsh Research Institute

SJWRI hosts forensic anthropologist

‘Rock star’ Thai forensic pathologist Dr Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan was at Otago in January as a guest of the Sir John Walsh Research Institute at the Faculty of Dentistry. She presented lectures for our highly popular FORB201 Forensic Biology summer school course, as well as a public talk featuring insights from her career. Her impactful open lecture was hosted by the SJWRI and the Australian and NZ Forensic Science Society.

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World-first study into teeth of baleen whales’ ancestors

The SJWRI and Faculty of Dentistry’s Dr Carolina Loch has added another piece to the puzzle of the evolution of modern baleen whales, leading a world- first study examining the structure of the enamel and dentine of teeth from fossil ancestors of baleen whales. Modern baleen whales have ‘lost’ their teeth over millions of years of evolution, replaced with large keratin plates (baleen) which filter prey from large volumes of seawater. Dr Loch and co-workers found that teeth from baleen whales’ ancestors had a complex enamel layer with biomechanical structures indicating they were capable of heavy shearing and processing of their prey. One fossil species had the thickest enamel ever observed among cetaceans, extinct or living.

See the University’s media release:
Otago researcher contributes piece to the puzzle of baleen whales’ evolution

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Congratulations to Claire Gallop

Congratulations to Claire Gallop, Senior Manager Client Services for the Faculty of Dentistry, on being awarded the University of Otago Award for Exceptional Performance by Professional Staff. This award commends Claire’s "exceptional leadership in a challenging situation” during a period of significant change at the Faculty of Dentistry, and “exceptional service to the University community”. She was recognised for her positive leadership, empathy, open-door policy, support, vision, values, skills training and organisation of workshops. Ms Gallop says receiving the award was extremely humbling.

"I was incredibly honoured that my colleagues took the time to nominate me and I was completely surprised that I won. It is fair to say that I am a little unorthodox in how I approach my role and yet I have received so much support.

"I am fortunate to work with a fantastic team of Client Services and Clinics Administrators as well as Faculty of Dentistry staff who are doing great work under challenging circumstances. I have had the opportunity to work with excellent Academic Leaders who are transforming the Faculty and I have been supported by an amazing line-manager, thanks Andrea. I think that this award is a reflection on all the members of this team rather than me in particular and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to play a small part in the changes occurring in the Faculty."

Read more in the Otago Bulletin Board:
Exceptional staff recognised at awards ceremony

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Tracking jaw activity by smartphone

Our Craniofacial Research programme, led by Professor Mauro Farella, have developed a novel wearable device to track jaw function and parafunction. A new paper in Clinical Oral Investigations, lead-authored by SJWRI PhD student Sabarinath Prasad, showed validation of the device against reference standard equipment. The device weighs only 5g, can wirelessly transmit for over 24 hours to any Android-based Smartphone data logger, and has been used to collect preliminary data in freely moving volunteers. The device can track jaw function, such as eating, and jaw parafunction, such as clenching and grinding of the teeth (bruxism). A new, smaller version of the jaw tracker is currently being developed and will soon be available for research purposes.

See more on Facebook:
Orthodontics at Otago

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School of Biomedical Sciences

Award winners 2018 School of Biomedical Sciences
From left to right: Associate Professor Russell Poulter (Commercialisation Research Award), Professor Iain Lamont (Distinguished Academic Teacher 2018), Teena Joyce (Research Support – Sustained Contribution), Dr Warren McBurney (Distinguished Teaching Fellow / Professional Practice Fellow 2018), Vivienne Young (Research Support – Focused Contribution), Dr Mihnea Bostina (Best research paper of the year), Chris Smith (Teaching Support Award 2018), Dr Karl Iremonger (Emerging Researcher Award), Darren Hart (Research Support – Distinguished Contribution). Absent: Professor Peter Dearden (Distinguished Researcher Award).

The School of Biomedical Sciences marked the end of what its Dean dubbed "quite the year" at its 2018 awards in December.

Professor Vernon Ward said student numbers were the highest ever in 2018, there were 16 successful Marsden applications, and the School received $35m in research funding (including internal grants).

He said 2018 was also a year of great change for the School and its staff, particularly professional staff who have been impacted in many ways by the outcome of the Support Services Review.

Looking ahead, he predicted 2019 will bring more change in areas including governance, buildings, infrastructure and funding.

He said the awards event is to acknowledge the success and contributions of people.

“And if we put aside the issues of the past year and look at what has been great, then there are real achievements we as a School should be immensely proud of.”

Awards were presented to:

  • Teaching Support Award 2018: Chris Smith (Department of Anatomy);
  • Distinguished Teaching Fellow / Professional Practice Fellow 2018: Dr Warren McBurney (Department of Microbiology and Immunology);
  • Distinguished Academic Teacher 2018: Professor Iain Lamont (Department of Biochemistry);
  • Research Support – Focused Contribution: Vivienne Young (Department of Microbiology and Immunology);
  • Research Support – Sustained Contribution: Teena Joyce (Department of Biochemistry);
  • Research Support – Distinguished Contribution: Darren Hart (Department of Biochemistry);
  • Commercialisation Research Award: Associate Professor Russell Poulter (Department of Biochemistry);
  • Best research paper of the year: Dr Mihnea Bostina (Department of Microbiology and Immunology);
  • Emerging Researcher Award: Dr Karl Iremonger (Department of Physiology);
  • Distinguished Researcher Award: Professor Peter Dearden (Department of Biochemistry).
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Department of Biochemistry

Awards and promotions

Warren Tate rounded off his collection of awards in November with the Marsden Medal. This joins the Rutherford Medal he was awarded in 2010 and the 2011 CNZM.

Also in November, Megan Leask was awarded a Māori Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship to work on reducing the burden of Metabolic disease in Māori.

Congratulations to the 2018 Biochemistry student academic prizewinners:

  • Sarah MacKie: the Mervyn Smith Prize – for the student with the highest level of attainment in biochemistry in the first year MSc class.
  • Joshua McCluskey: The Petersen Prize – for the student who has shown the greatest promise for original research in biochemistry in the 400-level class.
  • Cameron Reddington: the Edson Prize in Biochemistry – for the student in the 400-level BSc(Hons) class who has reached the highest attainment in biochemistry.
  • Emily Rhoades and Helena Cooper: joint winners of the Edson Prize in Biochemistry – for the student(s) in the 300-level class who have reached the highest attainment in biochemistry.

Congratulations also to staff who have been promoted: Associate Professors Liz Ledgerwood and Stephanie Hughes, Senior Lecturer Lynette Brownfield, and Senior Research Fellow Andrew Cridge.

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Departures

In November Russell Poulter gave a 'pseudo-valedictory' seminar on his kiwifruit Psa work, and we had a dinner to mark his retirement from teaching. He continues his research in the department, however, for as long as funding and inspiration allow.

We said a real goodbye to stores manager Tim Bain and accounts/receptionist Charity Upoko-Winchcombe at the end of 2018. Tim took voluntary redundancy as part of the SSR, and Charity has moved with her family to Hamilton.

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Lab in a box

Miriam Sharpe and Shar Rae-Whitcombe, a small group of researchers and graduate students took Lab in a Box Portobello and Macandrew Bay schools in late October. They showed the children how to build molecular models, use pipettes, look at different types of cells under the microscope, and extract DNA from of a banana. The children later sent us a wonderful 'thank-you letter' with pictures of scientists.

Lab in a box image
The pupils of Portobello and Macandrew Bay schools illustrate their appreciation for Lab in a Box.

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School of Pharmacy

Pharmacy white coat ceremony image
The 2019 School of Pharmacy white coat ceremony.

About 140 students were welcomed into the first professional year of the School of Pharmacy on February 23 with a traditional ‘white coat ceremony’.

The ceremony provides a formal transition from being a student in Health Sciences First Year to entering the School and the students are given a white coat as a symbol of entering the profession.

This year’s ceremony featured strong family connections, with special significance for two of the incoming students, with one student being presented a coat by her father and another by her grandfather.

Read the coverage in the Otago Daily Times:
Family connections in pharmacy

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School of Physiotherapy

Farewell to colleagues

The School of Physiotherapy has bid farewell to colleagues Cath Smith and Lynne Clay. A huge thanks for their research contributions to CHARR (Centre for Health, Activity, and Rehabilitation Research), over the years:
Farewell to Cath Smith and Lynne Clay (School of Physiotherapy website)

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Pain at Otago

CHARR staff, David Baxter and Ram Mani, contributed to an editorial by University of Otago Research Theme, Pain@Otago, in a recent New Zealand Medical Journal.
Find more media reports about our Pain community outreach work:
Pain community outreach (Pain Research Theme website)

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Three new PhDs in Physiotherapy

We are so proud of our freshly minted new PhDs in physiotherapy who graduated on Saturday December 8 2018.

Physio PhD graduates in 2018 image 650
From left: Drs Angela Gisselman, Codi Ramsey and Bahram Sangelaji.

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Southland Campus

Southland Hospital Campus hosts the 4th Public Lecture at the Education Centre

Associate Professor and Associate Dean Southland Konrad Richter invites the public to attend the 4th Free Public Lecture, held at the Southland Campus on 2 April 2019. The topic this time will be “Myth-Busting–Breast Cancer”. Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in NZ women. On average, 9 women in NZ will hear the news today that they have Breast Cancer.

Speakers include Southland-based Breast Surgeon Paul Samson and Dunedin-based Radiation Oncologist Lyndell Kelly in collaboration with the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation. Professor Richter says that the previous three Public Lectures (Colorectal Cancer, Prostate Cancer and Modern Hip Replacement), were well attended beyond full capacity, so early registration is essential.

These lectures are great opportunities, not only for the public to get updated on hot and current health topics and to meet and engage with their medical staff, but also for the presenting clinicians, nurses and management to foster productive and effective collaboration within the Southland Campus and their Dunedin colleagues as well as listen to public concerns and questions.

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New centre progressing well

Associate Professor Richter says the development of the new Southland Learning and Research Centre is making excellent progress and the opening at this stage is planned for June, though the final date has not been announced.

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University of Otago, Christchurch

CReaTE 3D printing

Christchurch 3D printing group image 650
Some of those attending the CReaTE short-course on 3D Printing in Medicine.

The Christchurch Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering (CReaTE) group held its second ‘3D Printing in Medicine’ short course in mid-February. The world-leading team, and visiting international experts, gave participants up-to-the-minute information on developments in 3D-bioprinting and how it is and could be applied in medicine.

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Rainbow flag adorns Christchurch campus

Sewing the rainbow flag image 650
Dr Lynley Cook stitches the rainbow flag.

A rainbow flag now hangs in the foyer of the Christchurch campus. The head of the campus, Dean, Professor David Murdoch, says hanging the flag in a prominent place recognises the campus’ commitment as an ally to students, staff and patients who are members of the rainbow community.

“In doing so we recognise our role in training future health professionals to be culturally competent and socially accountable. This is a place where members of the rainbow community can feel welcome, safe, and respected.”

A ceremony to hang the flag was attended by University staff and students, as well as members of the rainbow community and Canterbury DHB staff. The flag was sewn in the foyer during the introductory fortnight for new medical students on campus by the Dean’s wife Dr Lynley Cook.

Rainbow flag in the campus foyer 650
"Welcome, safe and respected" – the rainbow flag adorns the foyer of the Christchurch campus.

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University of Otago, Wellington

First Pasifika Professor of Medicine

Aiono Professor Alec Ekeroma has been appointed to head the Department of Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Women’s Health at the University of Otago, Wellington.

He is the first academic of Pacific origin to hold a professorial role in an area of medicine in New Zealand – and also the first to head a University of Otago department.

Previously he was Associate Professor at the University of Auckland and has held many leadership roles in the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and with Pacific health organisations both within New Zealand and in the Pacific Islands.

Professor Ekeroma was awarded the chiefly Samoan title ‘Aiono’ by his aiga, or extended family group, in 2006.

Aiono Professor Ekeroma’s area of expertise ranges across the fields of stillbirth, research capacity building, Pacific women’s health, vitamin D, medical curriculum development, gestational diabetes mellitus and global health.

In conjunction with his leadership role at UOW, he has a clinical commitment to the Capital Coast District Health Board and a leadership role as founding professor of the School of Medicine at the National University of Samoa. He is the Chief Editor of Pacific Health Dialog and the Pacific Journal of Reproductive Health.

Professor Ekeroma says he is looking forward to building research capacity in collaboration with DHB staff and across the Christchurch and Dunedin sites.

“I will be working closely within the University and the DHB to address health inequities in access to care.”

Aiono Professor Alec Ekeroma with colleagues 650From left: Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga (Associate Dean (Pacific) Health Sciences Division), Aiono Professor Alec Ekeroma and Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu (Associate Dean (Pacific) UOW).

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Research news from Wellington Campus

Surprise te reo Māori finding in pre-diabetes research

Dr Andrea Teng thumbnailResearch from the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge has found people who speak te reo Māori have less chance of progressing from pre-diabetes to diabetes.

Read the media release:
Surprise te reo Māori finding in pre-diabetes research

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Rheumatic fever research project begins in Wellington

Professor Michael Baker thumbnailA three-year Health Research Council funded project aimed at pinpointing the best ways of preventing rheumatic fever has been launched at the University of Otago, Wellington, as latest figures show the number of cases continuing to rise despite prevention efforts.

Read the media release:
Rheumatic fever research project begins in Wellington

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‘Choosing Wisely’ reduces unnecessary tests and antibiotic use

Dr Lynn McBain thumbnailA Choosing Wisely initiative at the Hutt Valley District Health Board reduced the number of unnecessary urine tests being performed on hospital patients and lowered levels of antibiotic prescribing.

Read the media release:
'Choosing Wisely’ reduces unnecessary tests and antibiotic use

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One plus one equals more than two in patients with multimorbidity

Professor Tony Blakely thumbnailCaring for patients with two or more chronic diseases costs the health system more than it would to treat each disease in isolation, new research shows.

Read the media release:
One plus one equals more than two in patients with multimorbidity

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Va'a o Tautai

Record number of Pacific health professional graduates

A record number of Pacific students graduated from their chosen Health Professional programme during the two graduation ceremonies on December 8 and 15, 2018, with more than twice the number of graduates (28) compared with this time last year (13). The graduating Pacific cohort comprised 15 doctors, two dentists, two pharmacists, three physiotherapists, four oral health professionals, one dental technician and one medical laboratory scientist.

Pacific graduates celebrate image
Proud Pacific graduates at the Health Sciences Graduation Ceremony in December 2018.

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Pacific International Health Symposium: Strengthening Partnerships for Pacific Health

29–30 November 2018, Otago Museum, Dunedin

The Va’a o Tautai team are grateful to the many staff, students and community members who contributed to the success of the Pacific International Health Symposium at the Otago Museum on 29–30 November 2018. We would also like to acknowledge the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and the US Embassy New Zealand for funding Pacific regional participant travel.
Representatives from across the Pacific region, including senior leaders in health and education from the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, participated in the symposium alongside New Zealand delegates.

A copy of the Book of Abstracts is available to download from the Pacific International Health Symposium website

A write-up about the event was published in the Otago Bulletin on 4 December:
Pacific Health Champions gather in Dunedin for Symposium

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Pacific Foundation Programme (PFP)

Ten Pacific students from across the country have been awarded POPO Foundation Scholarships to support their study in the Foundation Year Health Sciences in 2019. This programme is designed to provide wrap-around support to Pacific students who are planning to enter Health Sciences First Year (HSFY) the following year. The 2019 PFP students and their families were officially welcomed at an orientation session on Monday 18 February.

Pacific Foundation scholarship recipients group image
The 2019 PFP Scholarship recipients with PFP Programme Coordinator, Ms Kalameli (Kala) Fagasoaia (far right).

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Pacific Orientation Programme at Otago (POPO) mentoring and leadership training

The POPO Mentoring programme is a peer-led initiative designed to support Pacific students transitioning into the tertiary environment. For 2019, 23 senior Pacific students are involved in delivering a 13-week intensive mentoring programme for Pacific health sciences first-year students throughout semester one and will continue to provide mentoring support in the second semester in a less structured setting, the POPO Cafés.

In preparation for the role, peer mentors participated in intensive leadership training held on 8-9 February.

Pacific mentoring team image
The 2019 POPO Mentors who participated in Leadership training on 8-9 February.

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Early Orientation Programme (EOP), 15 and 16 February 2019

Over sixty students participated in the two-day Early Orientation Programme (EOP) for Pacific students entering Health Sciences First Year in 2019 to begin their transition into this course through a number of workshops and activities. During the programme, students learn about the support programmes in place for Pacific students and have the opportunity to meet their mentors who are senior Pacific students in a range of health courses. The 2019 EOP began on Friday 15 February in the Va’a o Tautai space in the Hunter Annex followed by an overnight camp at Waihola, culminating in a trip to Brighton Beach the next day.

Pacific Orientation participants enjoy the activities image
Early Orientation Programme participants getting ready to begin their studies in Health Sciences First Year.

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National Pacific health provider fono

21 February 2019, Va’a o Tautai

Representatives of organisations providing healthcare and social services for Pacific people around New Zealand are travelling to Dunedin to participate in a fono being hosted by Va’a o Tautai.

The purpose of the meeting is to strengthen the working relationship between the University of Otago and Pacific health providers by providing a forum to promote mutually beneficial associations and a foundation for us to work together as we move forward.

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Pacific regional updates

Shipments to Fiji and Samoa

Plans are being finalised for shipments of donated items to Samoa and Fiji. Eight orthodontic chairs are destined for the Samoa Dental Clinic at the National Referral Hospital, donated by Professor Paul Brunton (then Dean of Faculty of Dentistry, now PVC Health Sciences), on behalf the Faculty of Dentistry during a visit to Samoa in 2018. The Samoan Community in Dunedin is raising funds to freight the chairs to Apia, with efforts being coordinated by Lupe Fa'alele a Samoa i Otago Incorporated.

A shipment of donated textbooks, dental supplies, and medical equipment, is also scheduled to be shipped to Suva, Fiji, in the coming months. The Fiji community in Dunedin is raising funds to cover the shipping costs.

The Office of the Associate Dean (Pacific) Dunedin, Va'a o Tautai, is coordinating these efforts.

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2019 University Teaching Development Grant awarded

Dr Katharina (Kati) Blattner, who holds the position of Pacific Nations Liaison in the Office of the Associate Dean (Pacific), Va’a o Tautai, is leading a project to better understand the experience of students studying via distance learning in Pacific Island Countries and to identify effective and sustainable solutions to better support these students.

The project will be undertaken in 2019 and is being funded by a University Teaching Development Grant. Members of the project team include Dr Allamanda Fa’atoese (Research Fellow, UOC), Dr Rosalina Richards (Director, Centre for Pacific Health), Ms Frances Brebner (Pacific Regional Coordinator, Va’a o Tautai), and Dr Kiki Maoate (Associate Dean (Pacific), UOC).

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