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Thursday 30 June 2016 3:01pm

PVC's welcome

Peter Crampton, PVC Health SciencesKia ora koutou katoa,

I warmly congratulate those researchers who were successful in gaining HRC funding and awards recently. In this year's funding round, Otago was fortunate to receive the greatest share of funding of all universities—which will enable a raft of important Health Sciences programmes and projects to proceed, as outlined below.

I also congratulate Dr Louise Bicknell, Dr Peter Mace and Dr Giles Newton-Howes, who are deserving recipients of our Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research.

In September, the Division will again host the Otago Spotlight Series research forum in Wellington. This is an important networking and outreach event, which in 2015 led to new relationships, new funding sources and collaborative opportunities for some of our researchers. I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Earlier this month I attended a farewell event for Professor Stephen Duffull, who stepped down as Dean of the School of Pharmacy at the end of May. It was a wonderful celebration of Stephen's six years as Dean. I thank him for his service and wish him well for his upcoming RSL.

Meanwhile, I warmly welcome Associate Professor Natalie Medlicott to the role of Acting Dean of the School of Pharmacy.

Best wishes for the start of Semester Two.

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

General news

Health Research Council (HRC) successes

Congratulations to recipients of the 2016 HRC funding round:

BODE3: Modelling preventive interventions to improve health and social outcomes

  • Professor Tony Blakely (Public Health, UOW)
  • NZ$4,945,837

This BODE3 programme will use modelling to estimate health and wider societal benefits, costs, cost-effectiveness, and impact on inequalities of a range of preventive interventions. We will be focusing on dietary and physical activity interventions, and will also assess these and other interventions specifically for populations with a particular risk of cardiovascular disease. We will also look at how these preventive interventions contribute to a healthier working-age population. Which interventions provide maximal health gain for working-age adults? Which interventions increase productivity and reduce welfare payments? Which interventions increase quality of life among older people? These questions are especially important as life expectancy continues to increase. We will be building capacity, nationally and internationally, in epidemiological and cost-effectiveness modelling research. This research can inform decisions on how to best spend limited health resources in a way that improves health outcomes for New Zealanders.

The Christchurch Health and Development Study – Birth to 40 years

  • Associate Professor John Horwood (Psychological Medicine, UOC)
  • NZ$4,363,673

The Christchurch Health and Development Study is a longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1,265 Christchurch-born children who have been studied to the age of 35. This application sought funding to extend this research to age 40. Research objectives include: long-term mental health consequences of exposure to the Canterbury Earthquakes; the consequences of alcohol and cannabis use and misuse to age 40; psychosocial and functional impairment resulting from chronic / recurrent mental health disorders; long-term consequences of exposure to maltreatment in childhood; genes, environment and mental disorders; developing a Te Ao Māori perspective; and translation of research findings to policy outputs. To achieve these outcomes the cohort will be interviewed at age 40 on a comprehensive interview relating to social background, economic and personal circumstances, mental health and related measures. The study will contribute both to the scientific literature in these areas, and inform health / social policy development in New Zealand.

Whānau Manaaki

  • Associate Professor Beverley Lawton (Obstetrics and Gynaecology, UOW)
  • NZ$4,697,067

The first years of life starting from pregnancy are crucial for good health outcomes and long-term achievements of children as adolescents and adults. However for Māori pregnant women and their tamariki (children) the social and health disadvantages are stark. This Kaupapa Māori programme called Whānau Manaaki puts Māori pregnant women and children at the centre to explore the health care delivery system and structural determinants of health (eg housing, racism, transport, income, education) that impact on the health of Māori women and their babies, and whānau. The three projects are: a community intervention that will integrate maternal and child care services into one care pathway; and two projects which explore preterm delivery (prematurity) which is a major contributor to disability and death for Māori. This programme of work is led by Maori and will lead to maternity / child care that works for Māori, leading to improved whānau health and well-being.

Targeting the RFRP neuronal system to control stress and anxiety

  • Associate Professor Greg Anderson (Anatomy, OSMS)
  • NZ$1,189,211

Hyperactivity of the stress axis is thought to be one of the fundamental underlying drivers of psychiatric conditions such as generalised anxiety and depression. This has led us and others to develop pharmacological approaches to modify neural stress pathways in the brain. Along these lines, we have recently discovered that the neuropeptide RFRP-3 induces anxious behaviour and enhances acute stress responses in mice. Remarkably, blockade of its receptor with a novel antagonist called GJ14 overcomes these responses. Using powerful new transgenic mouse lines and single cellular through to in vivo behavioural measurements, we will evaluate the role of RFRP-3 on activity of the cells controlling the stress axis, stress hormone secretion and various anxiety-related behaviours. We will then develop and evaluate new RFRP-3 receptor antagonists with improved ability to enter the brain following oral delivery, potentially opening an entirely new avenue for treating stress and anxiety related disorders.

Understanding GAS pharyngitis and skin infections as causes of rheumatic fever

  • Professor Michael Baker (Public Health, UOW)
  • NZ$1,197,694

This research will provide evidence to support improved prevention of acute rheumatic fever (ARF). It will focus on a population at high risk of ARF: 5–14 year old children living in Porirua who have sore throats and skin infections and group A streptococcus (GAS) bacteria detected. GAS pharyngitis will be serologically confirmed to differentiate between children with true pharyngitis, who are considered at risk of progressing to ARF, from those that are GAS carriers. GAS organisms from throat and skin infections will be genetically typed (emm typing) to see if they are similar to those causing ARF in NZ. The study will collect data from participants to identify risk factors for infection, particularly those that are modifiable. This information will fill critical gaps in knowledge about the causes of New Zealand's high rates of ARF, particular the potential value of better treatment and improvements to the environments where children are living.

Repurposing amiloride derivatives as new agents for drug-resistant tuberculosis

  • Professor Greg Cook (Microbiology and Immunology, OSMS)
  • NZ$1,186,405

Tuberculosis (TB) disease is increasing and drug-resistant M. tuberculosis strains are becoming more prevalent through the importation of these strains from high incidence countries (Asia-Pacific). Treatment options for drug-resistant strains are limited and expensive, creating an urgent need to develop new TB drugs. New drugs to combat TB disease should be centred on inhibitors of energy generation as these agents have the greatest potential to shorten TB chemotherapy to eight weeks (e.g. bedaquiline). The goal of our study is to perform a structure-activity exploration of amiloride analogues against M. tuberculosis to identify potent new inhibitors of tuberculosis disease to combat drug resistance. The development of fast-acting drugs that combat all forms of TB disease will result in a reduction of the incidence of TB in New Zealand amongst those at greatest risk (e.g. Māori and Pacific Island descent) and individuals living in socioeconomically deprived areas (55% of all TB cases).

What predicts regression from prediabetes to normal glucose regulation?

  • Dr Kirsten Coppell (Medicine, DSM)
  • NZ$1,111,511

Prediabetes is a high-risk state for type 2 diabetes (T2DM) and cardiovascular disease. Regression to normoglycaemia significantly reduces risk, even if regression is transient. In New Zealand, prevalence of diabetes is 7% and prevalence of prediabetes is 26%. Primary care-based lifestyle advice needs to be more effective if prediabetes is to be well managed and cases of T2DM prevented. Following our Hawke's Bay-based collaborative feasibility study in a real-world primary care setting, we aim to determine if there are clinically relevant and modifiable differences between those with prediabetes who regress to normoglycaemia at 6 months, and those who do not, following participation in our structured, practice nurse-delivered prediabetes dietary intervention. Results will contribute to understanding cultural, psychosocial, physical health, and genetic factors associated with regression from prediabetes to normoglycaemia, and inform more effective prediabetes management clinical decision making. Established networks will facilitate widespread adoption of our novel prediabetes intervention tool.

Preventing upper respiratory tract infections in infancy

  • Professor Julian Crane (Medicine, UOW)
  • NZ$1,198,437

In this proposed study we will investigate the effect of a daily oral probiotic (BLIS) on preventing very common infectious problems during early infancy, particularly otitis media, reducing dental caries, upper respiratory tract infections and acute strep sore throats. The BLIS probiotic is known to reduce the bacteria that cause these infections and this study will examine the potential of this oral probiotic on these common infection problems.

Role of hypothalamic beta-catenin in body weight regulation

  • Professor David Grattan (Anatomy, OSMS)
  • NZ$1,195,100

We have identified a novel brain response that occurs after eating a meal. The aim is to determine the role of this response in the normal regulation of food intake, and to determine whether abnormalities in this response might contribute to the development of obesity.

The Next Generation Studies

  • Associate Professor Bob Hancox (Preventive and Social Medicine, DSM)
  • NZ$1,195,332

The Next Generation Studies are two closely-related studies with the children of the long-running Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study participants: the Parenting Study investigates how parenting practices are passed from one generation to another. The Next Generation Study focuses on the well-being of the teenage children of the Dunedin Study participants. The aim is to understand how health, well-being, and lifestyle transfer between parents and children and what protects children from or increases their risk of developing problems. These studies have been running for several years and have been very successful in collecting data from the children and families involved. This application will extend the collection to include the children who have been too young to be assessed up until now and will enable further analyses of the data that we have collected.

Generating pulses with KNDy neurons

  • Professor Allan Herbison (Physiology, OSMS)
  • NZ$1,121,058

The brain controls the levels of hormones circulating in the blood. The fertility hormones are secreted in a pulsatile manner that is essential for normal reproduction in humans. While it is known that it is the brain that generates pulsatile hormone secretion, how it does this has remained a complete mystery. This projects aims to build on a recent exciting discovery in the laboratory that has given us a clue as to the origin of fertility hormone pulsatility. Using genetically-manipulated mouse models and the very latest techniques in neuroscience we aim to elucidate and characterize the role of a small distinct group of brain cells we believe to be responsible for generating pulses of fertility hormones in the blood. Understanding how the brain controls fertility will lead to the development of new therapies for treating infertile couples in addition to new methods of contraception.

Genomic analysis of adverse drug reactions

  • Professor Martin Kennedy (Pathology, UOC)
  • NZ$1,186,142

Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) cause a great deal of illness and death, and limit therapeutic options. Some ADRs result from differences in individual genetic make-up, and it is likely that many others have genetic origins. This research seeks to clarify how genes contribute to adverse reactions to drugs used in treatment of common illnesses like hypertension, acid reflux, and depression, within the New Zealand healthcare setting. In parallel with this, we will develop a biobank to collect and store samples from New Zealand patients suffering a much wider range of serious ADRs, to enable ongoing research. Ultimately, knowledge generated in this area will contribute to development of a single test that examines all genes known to be involved in ADRs or that affect responses to drugs, and provision of this test may help prevent ADR and lead to safer and improved treatments for many common illnesses.

Māori and bipolar disorder

  • Dr Cameron Lacey (Psychological Medicine, UOC)
  • NZ$1,181,031

While there is evidence for Māori having increased prevalence and worse outcomes with bipolar disorder, little is known about the factors contributing to these disparities or strategies to reduce them. This project aims to utilise routinely collected national data to identify detailed patterns of health service use for Māori with bipolar disorder as well as potential factors leading to disparities in outcomes. Māori patient and whānau experience with bipolar disorder and healthcare will be investigated in a range of settings to ensure the spectrum of severity and support needs are included. Focus groups with healthcare providers will discuss these patterns of health service use and Māori patient experiences to develop guidelines for best practice for Māori with bipolar disorder and generate strategies for change to address areas of unmet need.

Creating safer workplaces: Understanding our work related fatalities

  • Dr Rebbecca Lilley (Preventive and Social Medicine, DSM)
  • NZ$1,191,876

In the aftermath of the catastrophic Pike River Mine explosion New Zealand's poor workplace health and safety record has been under scrutiny. This research seeks to address a deficit in current information on work-related fatal injuries to New Zealand workers which is a significant barrier to progress on reducing work fatalities. This research will address the need for comprehensive and informative fatal injury data by using Coronial data which have been demonstrated to yield high quality, rich information with comprehensive capture of work fatalities to identify targets for policy, interventions for prevention and allow bench marking of safety performance.

Structure-directed discovery of next-generation antifungals

  • Associate Professor Brian Monk (Oral Sciences, Dentistry)
  • NZ$1,197,552

There is an urgent need to augment the widely-used and well-tolerated but drug resistance susceptible triazole antifungals with broad-spectrum drugs that target fungal lanosterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51) and not its human homologue or other cytochrome 450 enzymes. We have obtained high-resolution X-ray crystal structures of wild type and triazole resistant CYP51s with substrates and triazole inhibitors. We will apply this unique knowledge to improve drug specificity by modifying several features of existing antifungals. The electron transfer pathway to the active site and a product egress pathway will also be explored to identify antifungals that separately target human and plant fungal pathogens. Our structural biology expertise, combinatorial chemistry capacity, yeast-based screens and relevant murine infection models will be used to identify optimal hits as fungal CYP51-specific drug candidates. The identification of new antifungals will provide a model for drug discovery and development that circumvents the ubiquitous activities of cytochrome P450 enzymes.

Novel biomarker for acute coronary syndromes

  • Associate Professor Christopher Pemberton (Medicine, UOC)
  • NZ$1,164,059

Advances in the measurement of troponin in blood using highly sensitive assays has improved time to diagnosis of heart attacks but increases in troponin in patients presenting with chest pain that do not rise above diagnostic thresholds can lead to uncertainty for clinical care and management. Furthermore, the moderate ability of troponin to predict future mortality and cardiovascular events can be improved upon. We have discovered in human blood a novel biomarker that identifies patients with chest pain whom might be at high risk of future adverse events that are not identified by troponin. This biomarker appears to complement and add to the prognostic ability of troponin in patients with chest pain. This study will clarify the potential diagnostic and prognostic utility of the biomarker in patients with cardiovascular disease and seek to confirm its potential use as a clinical partner to troponin measurement in this high risk group.

Timekeeping in the neural network controlling fertility

  • Dr Richard Piet (Physiology, OSMS)
  • NZ$1,074,371

Fertility is controlled by a complex neuronal network in the brain that drives the activity of the gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons. This project aims to examine the mechanisms underlying the regulation of this neuronal network by the central biological clock in females. We will use state-of-the art experimental approaches in genetically-modified mouse models to dissect the specific brain circuits involved in keeping time within the GnRH neural network under both physiological and pathological conditions. We anticipate our studies will provide new information of the brain mechanisms involved in the control of reproductive function, and may open new avenues for therapeutic strategies for treating infertility in the clinic.

Reducing the burden of atrial fibrillation

  • Professor Richard Troughton (Medicine, UOC)
  • NZ$1,087,437

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an irregular heart rhythm that is common and is associated with impaired heart function, stroke and increased risk of hospitalisation or death. Aldosterone and other substances that activate mineralocorticoid receptors usually play a role in maintaining blood pressure and blood volume, but recent evidence suggest that they may also contribute to the development of AF. The proposed study will test whether blockade of mineralocorticoid receptors with an oral medication called spironolactone that is already proven to be beneficial for subjects with heart failure, can also reduce AF in subjects who already have a cardiac pacemaker. Using the cardiac pacemaker will allow more accurate detection of the total number and duration of episodes of AF. Participants in the study will receive either daily spironolactone or placebo tablets for 12-months and the difference in number of AF episodes will be identified from pacemaker recordings.

Te Ara Auahi Kore (TAKe)

  • Mr Anaru Waa (Public Health, University of Otago Wellington)
  • NZ$1,189,414

The Te Ara Auahi Kore (TAKe) research project will provide much needed high quality evidence for addressing smoking disparities between Māori and non-Māori and achieving a Tupeka Kore (Tobacco Free) Aotearoa 2025. TAKe will be conducted in partnership with Māori health providers and aligned to the indigenous arm of the International Tobacco Control Evaluation project. TAKe will focus on following a cohort of 700 Māori smokers over two surveys. It will also include a survey of tobacco control activities in participating locations and a qualitative study of whānau smokers. Findings will provide a unique and comprehensive picture of actual or potential national, regional and whānau influences on Māori smoking. Findings will be disseminated via Māori health provider workshops, seminars, peer reviewed journals, and conference presentations. The research team includes experts in Māori health, kaupapa Māori methodologies, and cohort studies. Community researchers will be employed as part of the study team.

Funding body gives strong support to Otago's health research (media release)
Otago research attracts substantial funding (Otago Bulletin Board)
Funding to help understand effect of quakes on mental health (Newstalk ZB)
Housing crucial for health of Māori (RNZ)
Maori health programme for pregnant women gets $4.7m grant (Stuff)
Dunedin Study safeguarded (ODT)

Congratulations to recipients of the HRC awards for outstanding contribution to health research excellence, leadership, and impact:

Associate Professor Suetonia Palmer (Medicine, UOC) has gone from being a HRC clinical research training fellow to an internationally recognised and cited researcher in identifying the best and safest treatments for kidney disease and diabetes in less than a decade. Dr Palmer's innovative work with chronic kidney disease patients saw her become the first New Zealander to win a L'Oréal UNESCO Australia and New Zealand for Women in Science Fellowship. She has since received a HRC emerging researcher first grant, and secured a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for five years. Continuing her impressive career progression, last year she also received a HRC project grant where she is involved in a large bi-national clinical trial with the Australasian Kidney Trials Network.

Professor Warren Tate (Biochemistry, OSMS), who also received a HRC established researcher award, first became involved in HRC-funded research in 1977. His work is widely recognised to have revolutionised our understanding of how proteins are synthesised in living cells, and provided important insights into the mechanisms behind diseases as diverse as Alzheimer's, HIV, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Throughout his career, Professor Tate has mentored more than 100 graduate students, many of whom have gone on to have successful research careers of their own. Public service, especially in the interests of science, has also been a feature of his distinguished career.

Dr Emma Wyeth (Preventive and Social Medicine, DSM) is an excellent example of a young researcher who has flourished as a result of opportunities offered by the HRC. A recipient of an HRC Māori Health PhD Scholarship, she went on to become a HRC Eru Pōmare Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, and in 2014 was awarded a HRC Emerging Researcher First Grant for her project to reduce the burden of disability for injured Māori. Dr Wyeth's outstanding research capabilities are matched by her recognised leadership qualities. She is director of the Ngāi Tahu Māori Health Research Unit and this year was appointed co-deputy director and a principal investigator of the Māori Health Centre of Research Excellence, Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga.

Otago health researchers honoured by HRC (media release)
Researchers gain awards (ODT)

Congratulations to recipients of the HRC Emerging Researcher First Grants:

Utilising a prognostic indicator to guide deprescribing in Aged Residential Care

  • Dr Claire Heppenstall (Department of Medicine, UOC)
  • NZ$145,459

Older people living in Aged Residential Care (ARC) are often prescribed multiple medications. Many of these are to prevent future illness, not to treat symptoms. Polypharmacy has been associated with poorer health outcomes and quality of life. In older people with short life-expectancy many of these medications are no longer necessary. However General Practitioners find it difficult to stop medications. This study proposes the use of a scale to identify people with limited life-expectancy, and to feed this information back to GPs together with medications prompts. We hope this will empower GPs to stop unnecessary medications. This study will assess the feasibility of this intervention, and whether it reduces numbers of medications prescribed and outcomes for this vulnerable population.

Zoonotic disease transmission in New Zealand rural communities

  • Dr Pippa Scott (Department of Pathology, UOC)
  • NZ$149,982

Around 60% of microorganisms causing human disease are passed between animals and humans ('zoonotic' pathogens). Changing farming practices in New Zealand are creating conditions promoting pathogen transfer between species. This project aims to identify interventions to control transmission to humans. Two zoonotic bacteria will be examined: Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) and Staphylococcus aureus. STEC causes severe diarrhoea, while S. aureus causes serious skin and bloodstream infections. Data will be collected in a dairy-farming community about the frequency of STEC and S. aureus in cattle and humans, and about how humans interact with cattle and the environment. Data will be included a mathematical model simulating transmission of bacteria within and between species. Intervention effects will be tested in the model. Identifying effective interventions will reduce the STEC disease burden, particularly in young rural New Zealanders, and reduce transfer of antibiotic resistant S. aureus to humans, maintaining treatment options for infections.

And congratulations to the recipients of HRC feasibility study funding:

Beta-blockers in COPD: Feasibility of an RCT in stable patients

  • Associate Professor Bob Hancox (Preventive and Social Medicine, DSM)
  • NZ$149,908

Beta-blocker treatment is known to improve survival from cardiac diseases. Unfortunately, beta-blockers are usually avoided in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) because of concerns that they may make airflow obstruction worse. Therefore patients with COPD are often deprived of the benefits of beta-blockers even though they have a very high risk of cardiac problems. Recent evidence suggests that beta-blockers may be safe and effective in lung disease but there have been no clinical studies to confirm this. This feasibility study will assess the safety and tolerability of metoprolol, a cardio-selective beta-blocker, in patients with COPD to determine whether a randomised controlled trial of beta-blockers should be conducted. The randomised study will provide a definitive answer on whether beta-blockers are safe and effective in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It has the potential to transform treatment of COPD and widen the indications for beta-blocker treatment.

Randomised controlled trial of prescription charges: feasibility study

  • Professor Pauline Norris (Pharmacy)
  • NZ$150,000

Prescription charges in New Zealand are low but can still prevent some people picking up prescription medicines they need. We plan to do an experiment where we recruit a group of people, who have many health problems, use a large number of medicines, struggle to pay for prescriptions, and are likely to need more hospital care if they do not take their medicines. We will divide the group in half, pay prescription charges for one group, and compare the groups in their use of health services, to see whether free prescriptions make a difference. This feasibility study will allow us to work out which groups of people to involve, how many we will need to include to be sure our results are correct, how to find these people, which outcomes to look at, how best to provide free prescriptions and find organisations to contribute funding to the study.

Otago studies supported by Health Research Council (media release)

Early Career Awards

Three of the six recipients of this year's Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research are from the Division of Health Sciences. Dr Louise Bicknell (Pathology, DSM), Dr Peter Mace (Biochemistry, OSMS), and Dr Giles Newton-Howes (Psychological Medicine, UOW) have been selected for the award on the basis of their outstanding research achievements.

The Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research were introduced in 2004 to recognise and nurture the University's most promising early career researchers. Each recipient will receive $5,000 to support their research and scholarly development.

Recipients also become members of the University's O-Zone Group of early-to-mid-career researchers. O-Zone undertakes activities to promote interdisciplinary thinking and collaborations and to present a positive, clear, innovative, and independent voice for research within the University and beyond.

Early Career Awards bestowed upon outstanding researchers (media release)
Early career research rewarded (ODT)

Health Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowships

The May 2016 round of these fellowships has been bolstered with additional funding from the Otago University Research Committee with near-miss funding. Therefore we were happily able to award two additional fellowships on this occasion.

Congratulations to:

  • Dr Mohammed Salahudeen (Pharmacy). Dr Salahudeen's research will use New Zealand's unique interRAI database to investigate potential risks that are associated with polypharmacy and hyper-polypharmacy for the older population.
  • Dr Emmet Power (Physiology, OSMS). Dr Power's work will focus on Purkinje neurons and will examine how they operate and contribute to motor learning.
  • Dr Erica Todd (Anatomy, OSMS). Dr Todd is researching sexual fate during development using the latest epigenetic techniques to help to determine how DNA methylation and consequent gene expression alters during this process.
  • Dr Rebecca Dyson (Paediatrics, UOW). Dr Dyson will be using a guinea-pig model of prematurity to study the effects of supplementation with omega-3 on life-course cardiovascular health.

The next round will be November 2016.

How to apply for a Health Sciences postdoctoral fellowship

New Deans for School of Pharmacy and University of Otago, Christchurch

School of Pharmacy

Carlo Marra imageProfessor Carlo Marra has been appointed as the next Dean of the University of Otago's School of Pharmacy. Professor Marra is currently Dean and Professor at the School of Pharmacy at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He will take up his position at Otago at the beginning of August.

Professor Marra has a strong academic background, with over 200 publications in peer-reviewed journals, more than 200 presentations at scientific conferences, and a long history of graduate student supervision.

His research has mainly focused on health economics, quality of life research and pharmacoepidemiology, including evaluations in musculoskeletal and respiratory diseases. He is also very interested in evaluating the clinical benefits and economic attractiveness of advanced scope of practice for pharmacists.

He holds a Bachelor of Science (Pharmacy), a Doctor of Pharmacy, and a PhD in healthcare and epidemiology from the University of British Columbia, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada in Arthritis Epidemiology and Pharmacoepidemiology.

University of Otago, Christchurch

David Murdoch imageProfessor David Murdoch has been selected as the next Dean of the University of Otago's Christchurch campus. He will replace incumbent Dean, Professor Peter Joyce, who retires in September.

The infectious diseases expert is currently head of one the campus' largest departments—Pathology. This department is home to many world-renowned research groups and involved in the teaching of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-year medical students.

Professor Murdoch has been involved in some of the most significant infectious disease research projects here and overseas. Projects include a global childhood pneumonia study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and a New Zealand-wide Legionnaire's disease surveillance programme.

He also works for the Canterbury District Health Board as a microbiologist. Professor Murdoch has been a Canterbury DHB staff member for more than two decades and will continue his part-time role as a microbiologist after becoming Dean.

Professor Murdoch earned his medical degree from the University of Otago, then specialised in infectious diseases and microbiology. These specialities, and later research projects, were in part influenced by time spent in Nepal as a young doctor, where he saw people dying or hospitalized from vaccine-preventable diseases.

International recognition for Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education (LIME) Network

The LIME Network is a project of Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand, and receives funding from the Australian Government Department of Health. The Network is dedicated to ensuring the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning of indigenous health in medical education, as well as best practice in the recruitment and graduation of indigenous medical students.

The LIME Network has received a prestigious international award—the ASPIRE Award for Excellence in Social Accountability. This award is developed under the auspices of the Association for Medical Education in Europe, the leading international association for medical education, to recognise medical, dental, and veterinary schools that excel in assessment of students, student engagement, social accountability of the school, and faculty development.

This is the first time the international award has been presented to a programme representing a collective of schools.

The reviewers highlighted that the LIME Network Program and its members clearly demonstrate a strong commitment to social accountability, noting that it is an "impressive bi-national initiative with a focus on a topic of national (and indeed) global priority, within a clear construct of social accountability. Key outcomes and impact have been, and continue to be achieved, through a model that is inclusive, participatory, and community-oriented."

The review panel also observed "the LIME Network operates to bind all medical schools together creating greater impact than could be achieved by any alone, or by any smaller grouping."

Departmental news

Dunedin School of Medicine

The Postgraduate Education Committee chaired by Associate Professor Julia Horsfield, Associate Dean (Postgraduate Education), is hosting a Dunedin School of Medicine (DSM) Postgraduate Research Day on Monday, 25 July 2016.

A workshop series will be offered in the afternoon from 1pm to 4pm, centring on the theme Your future: Life after postgraduate study. The workshops will be led by DSM postgraduate alumni and guest speakers representing the health sector. Following the workshops, a Poster Evening will be held at the Lecture Theatre Foyer in Dunedin Hospital from 5.30pm. Prizes for the top posters will be presented following a Plenary Talk by Professor Andrew Shelling, head of the Medical Genetics Group and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Auckland.

DSM honours, masters', and PhD students are welcome to attend the workshops and plenary session, and to submit posters. DSM staff are welcome to attend the poster evening and plenary session from 5.30pm–8pm.

Instructions for workshop registration and speaker updates

Faculty of Dentistry

Professor Alison Rich at the Royal College of Pathologists Fellowship Ceremony in March 2016
Professor Alison Rich (left) at the Royal College of Pathologists' admissions ceremony for new fellows.

Professor Alison Rich's endeavours have been recognised by the London-based Royal College of Pathologists, which has added her to their roll of Fellows after assessing her published works.

As a Fellow, Professor Rich will have access to all the Royal College of Pathologists' databases, expert groups, and publications, which is helpful for the Oral Pathology team and the Faculty of Dentistry as a whole.

Professor Rich was informed her Fellowship application had been successful late last year, and attended the admission ceremony in March, in Middle Temple—a building which had been the Knights Templar headquarters until 1312.

Otago Genomics and Bioinformatics Facility

The Otago Genomics and Bioinformatics Facility has successfully completed Illumina CSPro™ certification, gaining entry to an elite group of Illumina genomics service providers globally.

Illumina CSPro is the collaborative service provider partnership dedicated to ensuring the delivery of the highest-quality data available for genetic analysis applications. Illumina CSPro participants undergo a rigorous two-phase certification process that includes minimum data generation, data certification, and an on-site audit of the facility and processes.

Otago School of Medical Sciences

Department of Anatomy

Congratulations to Associate Professor Greg Anderson and Professor Dave Grattan, who have secured funding from HRC as principle investigators on research projects; and Associate Professor Ping Liu and Dr Joanna Williams who are named as co-principal investigators on a research programme directed by Professor Cliff Abraham from the Department of Psychology.

HRC funding success (Department of Anatomy)

A research team co-led by Associate Professor Hallie Buckley is hoping to excavate and identify the remains of some of Otago's first European settlers thought to be buried in unmarked graves in Tokiti, Milton. The names of 68 first-generation settlers known to have been buried in the St John's Church of England cemetery from 1860 to 1926 have been established through historical records, however up to 200 people may have been buried there. The project has been endorsed by the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Dunedin, the Rt Reverend Dr Kelvin Wright, and the Tokomairiro Project 60 research team.

Congratulations to Ms Aven Drayson, who has been awarded the Rotary Pride of Workmanship Award. Aven is the Executive Assistant to the Head of Department. The award, presented by the Rotary Club of Dunedin North in conjunction with the University of Otago, recognises staff who show a distinct quality in their approach, attitude and dedication to their job. Well done, and well deserved Aven!

Department of Biochemistry

Biochemistry relationship agreement signing with Te Rūnanga ō Ōtākou

On 2 June, the Department of Biochemistry signed a relationship agreement with Te Rūnanga ō Ōtākou. Donna Matahaere-Atariki signed on behalf of the Rūnanga and Professor Catherine Day on behalf of the Department. Professor Tony Merriman's gout research will be the first project covered by the agreement, and we hope there will be many more to join it before too long.

Dr Peter Mace, Dr Richard Macknight, and George Taiaroa have won the 2016 Otago Innovation proof of Concept Grant, for development of diagnostic tests using a novel enzyme.

Funding success and awards:

  • Dr Peter Mace won an Early Career Award
  • Professor Warren Tate and Dr Stephanie Hughes are part of the team led by Professor Cliff Abraham (Department of Psychology), that has been awarded a NZ$5 million project grant by the HRC
  • Professor Warren Tate won an HRC award for outstanding contributions to health research excellence, leadership, and impact

Monika Sharma, PhD student with Professor Sally McCormick, won two Best Young Investigator Presentation awards at the recent European Atherosclerosis Society meeting and associated Lp(a) satellite meeting in Innsbruck, Austria.

Professor Parry Guilford appeared on One News in an article about a new childhood cancer charity (REACH) started by the mothers of victims:

Christchurch mums band together to help fight against cancer (TVNZ)

Professor Peter Dearden, Associate Professor Mik Black, Dr Becky Laurie, and Dr Aaron Jeffs spoke in the Our Changing World programme on genome sequencing:

Genome sequencing – a how-to-guide (RNZ National)

Department of Microbiology and Immunology

A recent collaborative study involving researchers from the Fineran Lab has uncovered how viruses fight back against the CRISPR-Cas bacterial adaptive immune systems. The study, published in Nature Microbiology, uncovered a new arsenal of anti-CRISPR proteins produced by viruses that enable them to circumvent CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity in their arms race with bacteria.

The project was led from the groups of Alan Davidson and Karen Maxwell from the University of Toronto. Collaborators from Associate Professor Peter Fineran's group were Dr Raymond Staals, Corinda Taylor, and Bridget Watson.

Anti-CRISPR protein research published in Nature Microbiology (Department of Microbiology and Immunology)

A breakthrough tuberculosis (TB) treatment study led by Professor Greg Cook has been awarded funding in the latest round of HRC grants. The study will look at the use of a drug known as amiloride, more commonly used for managing hypertension, as a potential treatment for TB. The project been awarded NZ$1,186,405.

Drug-resistant strains of TB pose an increasing problem for health worldwide. Current treatment options are increasingly limited, expensive and ineffective, creating an urgent need for the development of new drugs. Inhibiting the energy generation capabilities of the causative bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, has been shown to offer the greatest potential to shorten TB chemotherapy.

HRC funding to develop treatment for drug-resistant Tuberculosis (Department of Microbiology and Immunology)

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology held an expo booth as well as a talk and lab tours at this year's Tertiary Open Day, where secondary students have a day's outing to see what Otago has to offer.

The Department booth in the Link this year featured an Influenza infection theme. A group of around 70 attended a talk in the afternoon, at least twice that of previous years. They learned about study choices, career pathways and current research, and afterwards many attended one of two lab tours. They were given the choice of discovering more about either the microbiology or immunology side of the Department's tuberculosis research programmes, viewing the PC3 lab on the roof of the building or the Flow Cytometry suite.

Record attendance at 2016 Tertiary Open Day (Department of Microbiology and Immunology)

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology has had a high success rate in this year's Otago School of Medical Sciences Dean's Bequest funding round. Congratulations to all six researchers who were successful in their applications.

  • Dr Jo Kirman, NZ$15,000, The contribution of innate lymphoid cells to the efficacy of BCG vaccination.
  • Dr Xochitl Morgan, NZ$15,000, Why do only some IBD patients stay in long-term remission? Characterising the role of gut microbial communities in a longitudinal cohort of paediatric patients with Crohn's Disease.
  • Dr Matloob Husain, NZ$10,000, Influenza A virus strategies to antagonize antiviral host factor histone deacetylase 6.
  • Associate Professor Alex McLellan, NZ$10,000, Improving T cell therapy by targeting the low pH of solid tumours.
  • Dr Robin Simmonds, NZ$10,000, Investigation of the role of agalactacin A in the pathogenicity of group B Streptococci.
  • Dr Raymond Staals, NZ$10,000, What is guiding Type IV CRISPS-Cas complexes?

Six department researchers receive OSMS Dean's Bequest Research Grants (Department of Microbiology and Immunology)

Department of Physiology

With his most recent publication (1 June 2016), Professor Allan Herbison, Director of the hugely-successful Centre for Neuroendocrinology (see next item), reached the very significant landmark of 200 peer reviewed journal article publications. Not only quantity, but quality and impact; over all publications, the average number of citations per item is 48, and an H-index of 57.

Congratulations to the following staff who have been awarded three-year HRC project grants:

  • Professor Allan Herbison (with Named Investigator Dr Richard Piet) has been awarded NZ$1,121,058 for the project Generating pulses with KnDY neurons.
  • Dr Richard Piet (with Named Investigator Dr Rebecca Campbell) has been awarded NZ$1,074,371 for the project Timekeeping in the neural network controlling fertility
  • Dr Karl Iremonger and Dr Alex Tups were also named investigators on two separate successful projects with principal investigators from the Department of Anatomy

The OSMS Postgraduate Symposium was held on 4–5 May at Otago Museum, and our students had great success at the event. There were a number of prizes, with the winners of the two top prizes (Best Poster and Best Presentation) being invited to attend the University of Queensland Postgraduate Symposium in Brisbane later this year. Two Physiology PhD students took out the two top prizes! Congratulations to:

  • Oby Ebenebe (supervisors Dr Jeff Erickson and Professor Alison Heather) – Best Poster Prize: Measurement of CaMKII expression and 17β-Estradiol- induced calcification in a mouse model of atherosclerosis
  • Mauro Batista da Silva (supervisor Dr Rebecca Campbell) – Best Presentation Prize: Investigating the development of altered brain wiring in a mouse model of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Congratulations to Nigaah Khan (supervisor Dr Jeff Erickson) and Isabelle van Hout (supervisors Associate Professor Grant Butt and Associate Professor Michael Schultz). Nigaah and Isabelle have been awarded the Otago Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) Summer Research Renshaw Prize for best report submitted by an OMRF-funded summer research student at the end of their project. This is decided by the OMRF Scientific Committee, and this year there were two winners—both from the Department of Physiology!

Congratulations to the following staff and students who have also had successes recently:

  • Division of Health Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowships: Two applications from the Department of Physiology, Dr Su Young Han and Dr Emmet Power, were chosen for award of Fellowships
  • Dean's Bequest funding: Professor Colin Brown, Associate Professor Fiona McDonald, and Dr Stephanie Hughes / Associate Professor Ruth Empson
  • Maurice & Phyllis Paykel Trust grants-in-aid: Project: Dr Zoe Ashley and Dr Carol Bussey; Travel: Dr Zoe Ashley, Parul Dixit, and Dr Alex Tups
  • RSNZ Catalyst: Seeding General Grant has been awarded to Dr Rajesh Katare
  • PhD completions: Congratulations to Rosalind Cook (supervisors Dr Regis Lamberts and Associate Professor Pat Cragg); Emmet Power (supervisor Associate Professor Ruth Empson); and Xander Seymour (supervisors Professor Colin Brown, Dr Rebecca Campbell, and Dr Richard Piet).

Pacific Islands Research and Student Support Unit (PIRSSU)

The University of Otago has presented gifts to the Samoa's National Health Service (NHS), in their efforts to continue building and strengthening the relationship between the National University of Samoa's Faculty of Medicine and NHS.

The donation follows the recent visit to Samoa by an Otago delegation, headed by Professor Peter Crampton.

In presenting the gifts, the University was represented by Faumuina Associate Professor Faafetai (Tai) Sopoaga.

Faumuina Associate Professor Sopoaga was in the country to attend the Samoa Medical Association AGM, accompanied by Dr Viliame Sotutu (Department of Women's and Children's Health, DSM).

Enhancing Samoa's medical capacity (Samoa Observer)

School of Pharmacy

Natalie Medlicott
Associate Professor Natalise Medlicott.

Welcome to Associate Professor Natalie Medlicott, who has taken on the role of the Dean until the arrival of Professor Carlo Marra in August.

Congratulations to the following staff on their recent funding successes:

  • Professor Ian Tucker was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the international CRS. Ian will be directing the amount of US$5000 to be given to the CRS Student Travel Fund to support the travel of the next generation of CR scientists to the Annual Meeting.
  • Professor Pauline Norris, Simon Horsburgh, Alesha Smith, and PhD student Shirley Keown recently received a NZ$150,000 grant from the Health Research Council of New Zealand to lead a feasibility study titled Randomised controlled trial of prescription charges.
  • Lisa Kremer received a NZ Pharmacy, Education and Research Foundation (NZPERF) grant of NZ$3,500 to support the project.
  • Dr Alisa McGregor also received an NZPERF grant of NZ$13,545 to support the project.
  • Associate Professor Joel Tyndall and Dr Andrea Vernall were associate investigators on grants in the recent HRC round.

Patti Napier
Patti Napiper.

PhD student Patti Napier (supervised by Associate Professor Rhiannon Braund and Professor Pauline Norris) has seen direct translation from her research into the advanced role of a technician.

Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman, Minister of Health, recently announced a new Pharmacy Accuracy Checking Technician (PACT) role will be introduced into New Zealand later this year. It is expected that the new role will free up a pharmacists' time, which Patti hopes will be spent communicating with patients.

Congratulations to our PhD students who have submitted their thesis:

  • Bhuvan KC
  • Katrin Kramer
  • Henry Ndukwe
  • Emma Salis
  • Bettina Zadehvakili

University of Otago, Christchurch

Master of Nursing Science (MNSc)

The first intake of nursing students in the University of Otago, Christchurch's new two-year graduate-entry Master of Nursing Science degree have begun their study.

Centre for Postgraduate Nursing Studies Director, Dr Philippa Seaton, says this exciting new programme provides a pathway for students to build on their previous undergraduate education to become a nurse, preparing them for work in a range of healthcare settings.

Students undertake this professional master's degree through an intensive two-year programme specifically designed to bring together clinical experience and integrated academic learning, and research skills and experience. It prepares graduates to contribute to the complex healthcare environment of today and in the future.

The programme is accredited by the Nursing Council of New Zealand, so successful students can become registered as a nurse and have a master's qualification.

New teaching rooms at Ōnuku Marae

The University of Otago has contributed to the building of a new wharekai and teaching rooms at Ōnuku Marae on Banks Peninsula.

The financial contribution follows a decade of students visiting the Marae in their first fortnight of study in Christchurch. In the past, students have slept and learned in the wharenui as well as in a marquee erected on Marae grounds.

The new teaching rooms will be used to support medical students' orientation to Christchurch and Hauora Māori teaching. It is intended postgraduate students and staff will also now be able to take advantage of this new learning environment.

University of Otago, Wellington

Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine

Professor Brett Delahunt
Professor Brett Delahunt.

Pathology, the official journal of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA), has been ranked by the Thomson Reuters 2016 Journal Citation Report (JCR) in the world's top 20.

Edited by Professor Brett Delahunt (Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine), Pathology increased its impact factor by 36% to 2.968 in the prestigious rankings, jumping 12 places in the overall JCR worldwide ranking.

It is now ranked 18th of all 78 pathology journals, and first for clinical pathology journals.

Professor Delahunt ascribes the lift in ranking to two key factors: the internationalisation of the Pathology editorial board, and a commitment to ensuring that only articles of the highest standard are accepted for publication.

Other news

2016 Otago Spotlight Series: Cardiovascular Disease

Mark your diary now!

  • Tuesday, 20 September 2016
  • Nordmeyer Theatre, University of Otago, Wellington
  • 9am–3.30pm

Following our very successful cancer research event in 2015, we invite you to join us for our cardiovascular disease (CVD) forum.

Over a dozen University of Otago researchers will be in the spotlight providing bite-sized 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, with cash prizes, will be held for students involved in CVD research. This will take place in Wellington the evening before the showcase (19 September).

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

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

Otago Spotlight Series Cardiovascular Disease webpage including competition guidelines


To register for the poster competition and the CVD event:


New Zealand Health Research Strategy Development

Many staff around the Division have already attended MBIE / MOH workshops on the development of a proposed New Zealand Health Research Strategy.

For those who have not, this is an important process that will affect how research funding from all government sources is allocated and we urge you to take your opportunity to have a say.

The discussion document can be downloaded from this MOH page:

The Divisional Office would really like to hear your views, no matter how brief, in order to prepare a submission on your behalf. Please send your feedback by 11 July:


Divisional Strategic Plan – Research

We you like to thank the many people who contributed to a survey and focus groups on this topic earlier in the year. A draft document will be send to the Divisional Executive in July, and following that will be distributed widely for consultation.

University of Otago Science Expo

2016 University of Otago Science Expo Identifier Graphic

As part of Dunedin's 2016 International Science Festival, the Divisions of Sciences and Health Sciences are jointly hosting the University of Otago Science Expo on the weekend of 9–10 July. This is an opportunity to share the excitement of science with the general public, as part of the wider Festival.

This year's theme is 'be curious'.

Eighteen departments, from Anatomy to Psychology, will have displays and activities at the Expo.

The Science Expo website has details about what's on, and venue directions.

Corpus: Conversations about Medicine and Life

Screenshot of Corpus blogCorpus: Conversations about Medicine and Life is a new blog, co-edited by University of Otago historian Professor Barbara Brookes and writer Sue Wootton.

Corpus links practitioners from a range of disciplines in conversation about health and illness. The blog will feature a wide range of perspectives on health and medical practice, especially reflective or creative work which fleshes out the biomedical version of illness and disability.

Contributors include doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, as well as historians, linguists, English scholars, classicists, poets, musicians, dancers, and artists.

Otago Medical School Alumnus Association (OMSAA)

OMSAA's online collection of historical medical artefacts was featured in a Newshub story on 30 May:

Dunedin's medical artefacts: The weird & wonderful (Newshub)

Impactstory is now free

Impactstory is a not-for-profit service which provides altmetrics to measure and share the impact of research outputs. Since late-April, Impactstory has been free to use.

The new Impactstory: Better. Freer. (Impactstory Blog)

Consulting biostatisticians

Within Health Sciences in Dunedin, there are five academic biostatisticians who are employed by the Division to provide biostatistical collaboration and advice to staff and research students in 2016, at no cost.

The biostatisticians are available for one-on-one consultations. (If you are a research student seeking assistance, please ensure that your supervisor is informed of this and willing to accompany you to any consultation.)

The consulting biostatisticians are:

  • Dr Claire Cameron
  • Mr Andrew Gray
  • Dr Ella Iosua
  • Dr Ari Samaranayaka
  • Associate Professor Sheila Wiliams


Changes to online staff profiles

The Health Sciences Staff Expertise Database by default now only displays authored books or book chapters, edited books, and journal articles. You can log into MyResearch to choose your 'Top 25' publications for display.

Please use the Profile Update Form to make other changes to your profile.

Recently-launched websites


Pulse is sent to a dynamic mailing list of staff whose primary division is recorded as 'Health Sciences'. System limitations mean some clinical, honorary, and part-time staff, and staff who do not use an email address, may not receive these emails.
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