New website launched Our new website is here. Find out more
Friday 28 April 2017 10:01am

PVC's welcome

Kia ora koutou kātoa

Peter Crampton, PVC Health Sciences
Professor Peter Crampton.

Welcome to this edition of Pulse. I hope you and your whānau have enjoyed a safe and relaxing Easter break.

The University has reconfigured its line-up of flagship research centres. The Division is proud to host nine of the twelve centres, including two that were announced in March: One Health Aotearoa and the Otago Global Health Institute. I congratulate all who have been involved in obtaining or reconfirming their centre status.

In just under a month from now, many of our dental and medical students will participate in the annual Teddy Bear Hospital Community Day. This is a very special event, where children bring their teddies for dental and medical 'check-ups'.

The children gain familiarity with healthcare settings and, importantly, our health professional students learn effective interaction with children in a clinical context.

I thank all involved in this student-driven initiative. It is emblematic of the valuable contributions our students make to our communities.

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

General news

Otago's flagship research centres confirmed

In March, the University announced two new flagship research centres after a rigorous evaluation process. Both are from the Division of Health Sciences: One Health Aotearoa and the Otago Global Health Institute. These will join 10 other centres that have been reconfirmed.

One Health Aotearoa is co-directed by Professor David Murdoch, Dean of the University of Otago, Christchurch; with Professor Nigel French from Massey University as the other co-director. Through its multi-institutional partnership, the centre will be the national leader in infectious diseases research, education, and advocacy, and the primary point of contact in New Zealand for international engagement and collaboration in One Health.

The Otago Global Health Institute will build on the foundation laid by the former Otago International Health Research Network, and cement research to solve global health issues as a flagship strength of the University. Its inaugural co-directors are Professor John Crump (Dunedin School of Medicine) and Professor David Fielding (Otago Business School).

Of the University's 12 new and reconfirmed research centres, those within the Division of Health Sciences are:

Dunedin School of Medicine

Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research

March was a busy month for the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre (EDOR) and the Healthier Lives National Sciences Challenge (NSC), who co-hosted two major national events at Auckland City Hospital, in collaboration with A Better Start NSC. The first of these, a debate-style public forum on The 'cost' of sugar, sold out less than two weeks after registrations opened. The panel members were Professor Jim Mann (Department of Medicine, DSM), Dr Jacqueline Rowarth, Chief Scientist at the Environmental Protection Authority, and Professor Tony Blakely (Department of Public Health, UOW). Chaired by renowned broadcaster Kim Hill, the topics discussed included the cost of sugar to our health, the impact a reduction in sugar consumption could have on sugar-producing nations, and the case for taxation of sugar sweetened beverages. This lively forum was aired on RNZ National on 14 April, and can be accessed from the EDOR website:

Listen to The 'cost' of sugar forum, held on 16 March, 2017 (EDOR)

A research symposium on diabetes and obesity was held the following day. The Diabesity Crisis: how can we make a difference? symposium brought together national and international scientists with expertise in epidemiology, endocrinology, genetics, health inequities, nutrition, physical activity, public health, policy, and clinical medicine to summarise the current state of knowledge, research direction, and priorities for action. The speakers included scientists from each of the organising groups, as well as three Australian researchers. A highlight of the day was the keynote address from UK researcher Rachel Batterham about lessons learned from bariatric surgery and the potential for new treatments. Professor Batterham was interviewed by Kim Hill for the RNZ Saturday Morning programme. This interview, and videos of the symposium presentations are now available:

Rachel Batterham explains how bariatric surgery really works (interview) (EDOR)
The Diabesity Crisis: How can we make a difference? (videos) (EDOR)

Otago Global Health Institute

The majority of illness and premature death worldwide is borne by people living in low- and middle-income countries.

Otago Global Health Institute (OGHI) fosters partnerships based on priority health concerns of colleagues in low-resource areas and to help find and evaluate effective solutions through collaboration in research and training.

New Zealand's unique connections with the Pacific and Asia, and our established international partnerships, enable innovative and rigorous research to advance communities' health goals.

Otago Global Health Institute website

Otago Medical School

On 17 March, high-achieving Bachelor of Medical Science with Honours (BMedSc(Hons)) students from Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington, were presented with awards at a ceremony in Dunedin.

The BMedSc(Hons) degree is available to students who have satisfactorily completed three or more years of study towards the MB ChB medical degree. The BMedSc(Hons) degree involves a full-time year of medical science research (including a thesis).

Congratulations to this year's recipients:

  • A F J Mickle Scholarship (NZ$600):
    • Annie Stevenson (Dunedin School of Medicine) – The epidenetics of coronary artery diease
  • Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust Research Award in Medical Sciences (NZ$8,000):
    • Georgina Fagan (Dunedin School of Medicine) – Improving exercise compliance in fatigued inflammatory bowel disease patients
    • Annie Stevenson (Dunedin School of Medicine) – The epigenetics of coronary artery disease
    • Tevita Vaipuna (Dunedin School of Medicine) – Sleep in Pacific adolescents
  • Marcus Fitchett and Reginald Medlicott Memorial Scholarship (NZ$5,000):
    • Andrew McLachlan (Bioethics Centre) – Adolescent autonomy revisited
  • Otago Medical School Scholarship (NZ$5,000):
    • Roshit Bothara (University of Otago, Christchurch) – Global health learning at the University of Otago, University of Samoa and Patan Academy of Health Sciences, Nepal
    • Jonathan Drew (Dunedin School of Medicine) – Healthy and sustainable eating patterns for New Zealand
    • Rachel Kee (Dunedin School of Medicine) – Development of a universal tonsillectomy outcomes questionnaire
    • Gisela Kristono (University of Otago, Wellington) – Inflammatory profiles in acute coronary syndromes
    • Ryan McQuaig (School of Biomedical Sciences) – Synergistic paracrine effects on cardiac progenitor cells from the right atrial appendage and left ventricle on cardiac repair
  • Tassell Scholarship (NZ$8,000):
    • David Wang (Dunedin School of Medicine) – Glioblastoma subtyping

BMedSc(Hons) Students
Back row (L to R): Jonathan Drew, Rachel Kee, Ryan McQuaig, Andrew MacLachlan.
Front row (L to R): Roshit Bothara, Tevita Vaipuna, Georgina Fagan, David Wang.

School of Biomedical Sciences

Congratulations to the Departments of Anatomy and Physiology, which have jointly ranked 24th in the world in the latest QS rankings.

Otago welcomes world university subject ranking results (media release)

Department of Anatomy

Professor Hallie Buckley will present her Inaugural Professorial Lecture—Evolutionary medicine: How bioarchaeology can address health and disease problems in the modern world—on 16 May in Dunedin. All welcome.

Professor Hallie Buckley's Inaugural Professorial Lecture (event and livestream details)

Department of Biochemistry

Biochemistry's first floor renovations are proceeding apace, and the Centre for Protein Research has relocated to its new laboratory space half-way down the corridor, to rooms 111 (office) and 112 (lab).

We are enjoying having three visiting professors: Professor Wolfgang Schneider (who is mostly based in Zoology), a William Evans Fellow from Germany; Professor Maria Selmar, a sabbatical visitor from Sweden; and Professor Jack Tanner, another William Evans Fellow, from the USA.

Professor Kurt Krause featured in the New Zealand Listener (31 March), talking about antibiotic resistance.

Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Understanding-the-Gut-MIcrobiotaProfessor Gerald Tannock's new book Understanding the Gut Microbiota has been released by publisher John Wiley & Sons. It was written while Professor Tannock was a James Cook Research Fellow (awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand). The book discusses the community of microbial species (the microbiota or microbiome) that inhabits the large bowel of humans, and provides a long-term perspective of this high-profile and fast-moving topic. Building on general ecological principles, the book aims to help the reader to understand how the microbiota is formed, how it works, and what its consequences are for humans.

Understanding the Gut Microbiota: new book by Professor Gerald Tannock (Microbiology and Immunology)

A particular type of immune cell in the tumour of colorectal cancer patients is positively correlated with increased chances of survival, according to the results of a pilot study led by the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. The study was co-authored by Kirsten Ward-Harstonge, PhD student in the Kemp Lab, and was published in the international journal Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy.

Presence of "Treg" immune cells improves outcomes for colorectal cancer patients (Microbiology and Immunology)

Associate Professor Alexander McLellan has been awarded a NZ$150,000 HRC explorer grant for A proton switch for T cell migration and activation:

In this proposal, we will exploit the low pH environment of solid tumours to enhance T cell immunotherapy. T cells will be genetically modified with constructs that enhance T cell migration to the low pH environment of tumours and that activate T cells to destroy cancer cells. We will fuse domains of a proton-sensing G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) to the intracellular signalling domains of a GPCR chemokine-receptor. This will effectively translate suppressive, low pH signalling into migratory and activatory signals for anti-cancer T cells. We propose that chimeric GPCR-modified T cells will be highly effective at infiltrating and destroying solid tumours and represent a novel paradigm for improving immunotherapy for traditionally hard to treat cancers.

Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

AR poster
Professor Rhonda J Rosengren interacts with the augmented reality poster.

The Department was well represented at the Society of Toxicology meeting that was held in Baltimore in March. Professor Rhonda J Rosengren, Dr Belinda Cridge, and PhD student Orleans Martey attended this meeting where Dr Cridge presented her newly-developed augmented reality scientific poster. This initiative was made possible with support from the School of Biomedical Sciences Strategic Fund.

Congratulations to:

  • Dr Greg Giles, who received funding from Lottery Health to fund an electron paramagnetic resonance spectrometer (NZ$61,345). This equipment is also partly funded by the 2016 round of the School of Biomedical Sciences Dean's Bequest Fund.
  • Associate Professor Ivan Sammut as Assistant PI with Professor Rob Walker (Department of Medicine, DSM), who received funding from Lottery Health for their project The cardio-renal syndrome: targeting aldosterone inhibition to reduce cardiac and renal injury (NZ$22,888).
  • Jamie Adams, 2016–2017 Summer Research Student with Associate Professor Ivan Sammut's group, was awarded Best Summer Scholarship Report (School of Biomedical Sciences Dean's Prize) for her project Pharmacological assessment of the cardioprotective properties of a novel preconditioning agent.

Professor Paul Smith was interviewed by RNZ's Jesse Mulligan on 13 March:

Vertigo: What causes it and how to deal with it (RNZ)

Department of Physiology

A morning tea was held for Sue Deans (Technical Manager) on 1 February to recognise 35 years of amazing service to the Department.

We would also like to congratulate:

  • Associate Professor Rajesh Katare (AI Professor Michael Williams), who has been awarded a two-year Lottery Health Research Project Grant for their project entitled Circulating microRNAs as prognostic indicator of ischemic heart disease.
  • Julia Gouws (MSc student supervised by Dr Karl Iremonger), who has been awarded the School of Biomedical Sciences Dean's Prize (first equal) for the Best Summer Scholarship Report for 2016–2017.

The Department has been involved in a great amount of outreach so far this year:

  • Twenty students came to the Department for Hands-On at Otago in January. Over four days they investigated touch, vision, and vestibular function, stimulated nerves and muscles, learnt about cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and got a 'taste' of the special senses.
  • Students from low decile and rural schools came in January as part of the Otago University Advanced Schools Science Academy to undertake a project jointly run by Physiology and Anatomy. They will return again in July to carry out a movement-related research project.
  • During February, five local high schools have brought their Year 13 Biology students into the department to undertake heart or respiratory laboratories relating to their NCEA homeostasis module, or their International Baccalaureate biology curriculum.

The Department has been hosting the monthly Thirst for Knowledge event which has been a resounding success. Many thanks to Kathrine Nielsen (PhD Student) and Dr Carol Bussey (Postdoctoral Fellow) for organising this great informal event—it has proved very popular. The next event is at 5.30pm Tuesday, 2 May 2017 at Ombrellos, and will feature Professor Philip Seddon (Department of Zoology) discussing the promises and perils of de-extinction. All welcome.

Thirst for Knowledge event listing

School of Pharmacy

Leanne Te Karu.
Leanne Te Karu.

The School of Pharmacy is pleased to announce the new Professional Practice Fellow position of Associate Dean (Māori) has been filled by Leanne Te Karu.

Leanne will undertake her 0.2 position predominantly from her home base in Taupo, and will visit the school on a regular basis in conjunction with other roles.

Leanne has extensive experience in hospital, community, and primary care pharmacy, and a history of leadership in governance roles. She is in the prime position to lead the Otago School of Pharmacy in Hauora Māori development.

The School are honoured to have Ms Te Karu as part of their team as they work to strengthen Hauora Māori development.

Otago School of Pharmacy welcomes Associate Dean (Māori), Leanne Te Karu (School of Pharmacy)

A collaboration between Otago and Auckland Schools of Pharmacy saw the successful delivery of symposium Forward Pharmacy: Evidence to take Pharmacy Forward, on 12 April at the University of Otago, Wellington campus. Over 100 people gathered at the one-day symposium, establishing a multi-disciplinary forum that spent the day collecting the right evidence that will propel pharmacy forward. The School would like to thank those who attended and supported the symposium and helped make it such a successful event.

Forward Pharmacy website

A new Bachelor of Pharmacy (BPharm) degree curriculum is in the final stages of approval and is set to launch next year. New students will see the inclusion of integrated module-based papers where the focus is person-centred care in a clinical settings and patients in the community. The integrated studies teach you how to apply what you learn at university to the practice of pharmacy. During these studies, students will have the opportunity to learn in different types of pharmacy environments alongside practicing pharmacists.

Congratulations to:

  • Professor Sarah Hook, who was one of four Otago researchers to gain a NZ$150,000 HRC explorer grant to develop a new way of helping doctors detect antibiotic resistance faster.
  • Professor Sarah Hook and Dr Allan Gamble, for receiving NZ$34,960 in funding from the Lottery Grants Board for Research Project Turning Weapons of Mass Destruction into Precision-Guided Munitions.
  • Dr Andrea Vernall, for receiving recent NHMRC (Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council) Project Grant, in partnership with Dr Karen Gregory (Monash University) and Dr Lauren May (Monash University), Investigating the impact of coincident modulation of adenosine and glutamate receptors on neuronal activity – implications for CNS drug discovery. 2017–2019, AU$648,447.

School of Physiotherapy

The School of Physiotherapy has been certified to the Allied Health Services Sector Standard NZS 8171:2005 for over 10 years. This demonstrates our commitment to providing quality services and to the training of physiotherapy students.

Researchers at the School of Physiotherapy's Centre for Health, Activity, and Rehabilitation Research (CHARR) and the Dunedin School of Medicine (DSM) have been awarded a Health Research Council Feasibility Grant for exploring the feasibility of a trial designed to assess effectiveness of tailored rehabilitation versus a standard exercise programme. The project is led by Dr Daniel Ribeiro (CHARR) and supported by associate investigators Dr Gisela Sole (CHARR) and Associate Professor Haxby Abbott (DSM). This project is part of ongoing research at the School of Physiotherapy's research centre (CHARR) on shoulder rehabilitation.

Shoulder rehabilitation research awarded HRC grant (School of Physiotherapy)

David Baxter.
Professor David Baxter.

Professor David Baxter has been awarded a grant from Lottery Health Research to research chronic pain in older adults, which is internationally recognised as a prevalent and disabling condition.

It has a serious impact on the quality of life of older adults, leading to depression, anxiety, sleep disruption, appetite disturbance and weight loss, cognitive impairment, and limitations in the performance of daily activities.

Ageing well with chronic pain study awarded Lottery Health Research funding (School of Physiotherapy)

Professor David Baxter was recently awarded the inaugural Chaffer Medical Award. The Chaffer Medical is a new annual award offered for the first time this year by the Otago Postgraduate Medical Society for distinguished performance in health research.

The CHARR Seminar Series (available via Zoom) continues through May, with speakers including scientist and writer Dr Lynley Hood, Ministry of Health Senior Advisor Diana O'Neill, and CHARR's Dr Ramakrishnan Mani.

CHARR Seminar Series 2017

University of Otago, Christchurch

Anna Brinsdon
Anna Brinsdon.

Talented sixth-year medical student Anna Brinsdon began our Academic Welcome by playing the bagpipes.

New staff and students were welcomed at the event, and prizes awarded to medical students and teachers for their achievements last year. For the first time, outstanding staff and Canterbury DHB staff were presented awards aligned with values such as community impact and leadership.

Professor Lisa Stamp, Professor Andrew Day, and Associate Professor Joe Boden were awarded Gold Medals for Leadership in Research.

The Mackenzie Marvels
The Mackenzie Marvels.

The Mackenzie Marvels (aka members of the Mackenzie Cancer Research Group and their family and friends) donned super hero costumes and raised more than NZ$7,000 for the Cancer Society in the Relay for Life event. This is the fifth year the team has competed. Over the years they have raised almost NZ$20,000 for the cancer charity.

City2Surf runners
Christchurch Heart Institute City2Surf runners.

Christchurch Heart Institute members got kitted out in bright red t-shirts and did the City2Surf run to increase the profile of their research group and raise money for charity. Their run entry fee went to the charity Aviva (formerly known as Women's Refuge).

Senior Leadership Team members from both the University of Otago, Christchurch and Canterbury DHB met for the first joint strategic planning workshop between the two institutions.

The Press recently featured an article on Christchurch's Health Precinct. The University of Otago is a crucial part of the Precinct and this article explains well what the Precinct is and our part in it:

The happening precinct: Map of central Christchurch's Health Precinct finally clear (The Press)

University of Otago, Wellington

The University of Otago, Wellington's interprofessional education (IPE) programme has been broadened this year to include Pharmacy interns. The University of Otago, Wellington introduced IPE in recent years for students across all the disciplines—dietetics, medicine, physiotherapy, and radiation therapy—at the Wellington campus. IPE is providing a way to better understand each other and to work together more effectively, says programme organiser Associate Professor Eileen McKinlay from Primary Health at UOW.

For three weeks in March, 64 health professional students (dietetics, medicine, physiotherapy, and radiation therapy, and pharmacy interns) learned together to better understand how to manage patients with long-term health conditions, and their roles in giving team-based care.

Patients with long-term conditions were recruited by local general practices and visited in their homes by small interprofessional groups to hear them talk about their conditions and how they self-manage. Pharmacy intern programme manager Debbie Wallace, from the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand says they were enthusiastic at the chance to bring the pharmacy interns into the existing IPE programme.

IPE at the University of Otago, Wellington

A new study will examine how well people of different body shapes and different ethnicities respond to a weight loss diet. Still in the recruiting phase to find 20 men of different ethnicities, the research will use the new state-of-the-art GENESIS suite at the University of Otago, Wellington's Centre for Translational Physiology to compare energy expenditure, body fat and glucose processing in the participants. The study will be led by Dr Patricia Whitfield, a University of Otago, Wellington PhD student and endocrinologist at Wellington Hospital, and overseen by Associate Professor Jeremy Krebs of the University of Otago, Wellington Department of Medicine.

Māori, Pacific, and South Asian individuals have significantly higher rates of Type 2 diabetes than New Zealand Europeans. The study could have major implications for how New Zealand doctors manage pre-diabetes and diabetes in people from different ethnic backgrounds. Dr Whitfield says "if we can find ways to prevent people developing Type 2 diabetes in the first place, this will have hugely significant benefits for the health of New Zealanders."

Centre for Translational Physiology

Other news

Teddy Bear Hospital

Bring your children and their teddies for a check up by the teddy doctors and teddy dentists at Teddy Bear Hospital. Dunedin's Teddy Bear Hospital is run by University of Otago dental and medical students. The aim of the event is to create a positive healthcare experience for young children as for some, visiting the dentist and doctor can be an anxious time.

The event is free. It gives children the opportunity to experience a medical setting in a fun environment. There will be anatomy models and a St John ambulance on site, as well as face painting, a bouncy castle, and more fun activities.

10.30am–2.30pm Saturday, 27 May 2017
The Hunter Centre, Dunedin

Register for Teddy Bear Hospital (click 'Sign Up For Community Day')

Teddy Doctors at Teddy Bear Hospital
Patients receiving check-ups at the Teddy Bear Hospital.

First roll-out of IPE foundation years module

Between March and May 2017, an interprofessional education (IPE) module is being rolled out to around 700 students in Year 3 Dentistry, Medicine, Oral Health, Pharmacy, and Physiotherapy, and in Year 1 of the Master of Dietetics programme.

The module engages students in ways of learning with, from, and about each other, as they gain knowledge and understanding about managing smoking cessation in New Zealand, in a collaborative environment.

Development and implementation of the module has been a collaborative exercise too. Planning committee members and 40 tutors are drawn from across the Division and participating programmes. Administrators across the schools / faculties / departments have needed to coordinate timetabling and other systems to support the module delivery.

Module Convenor Dr Margot Skinner comments: "Like any new venture of this kind, the module has presented opportunities as well as challenges. Positive feedback is already coming in, and formal evaluation will allow us to consolidate and continuously improve the module for future implementation rounds."

MOH professional development opportunities

Have you thought about contributing your expertise to shape health policy and practice in New Zealand?

The Ministry of Health regularly seeks health expertise, in a range of disciplines, for various advisory groups and committees working to improve New Zealanders' health.

Vacancies on health statutory bodies (MOH website)

Health Sciences Staff Expertise Database—have you checked your profile lately?

A very large percentage of websites within the Division rely on the Health Sciences Staff Expertise Database as the go-to resource for staff profiles, particularly sites hosted in Dunedin campus. Increasingly, Marketing and Communications are using profile links in corporate media releases too.

We work hard to keep your information current from what comes to our attention, but you are best placed to make sure things are spot on.

  • Have you checked that your profile information is up-to-date? Your title, publications, research interests, groups you're affiliated with, contact info, your photo…
  • Did you know you can select the order of your publications?

Web editors, and others, will be very appreciative if you have a quick look and check.

Steps to check:

  1. Go to the Health Science Staff Expertise Database to check your profile
  2. Spotted a fix? Or need to set up a brand new profile? Fill out our form in the 'For staff' section of the Health Sciences website:
  3. To put your publications in a specific order (and to make sure they are all there), log in to MyResearch (available via 'For staff' on the University website's main menu). This is managed by the Publications Office. The updated data feeds through to the publications component of your profile page—timely for PBRF too!

Consulting biostatisticians

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

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

In addition, Divisional walk-in biostatistics clinics, and school and department walk-in biostatistics clinics, are available on a regular basis. For contact details and clinic dates see:

Recently-launched websites

List of all Health Sciences websites


Pulse is sent to a dynamic mailing list of all Health Sciences staff employed by the University of Otago. System limitations mean staff not employed by the University (such as clinical or honorary staff employed by DHBs) may not receive these emails.
Back to top