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Health Sciences Research Forum

2018 Otago Spotlight Series: Infectious Disease Research

Our 2018 theme is Infectious Disease Research. We're exploring human, animal, and environmental spheres and interrelationships.

Join us for a day of short, accessible presentations from international leaders and emerging investigators in infectious disease research. We're exploring the issues affecting New Zealand, and also how our research is addressing globally challenging health issues.

  • Free to attend, morning and afternoon teas and lunch provided
  • We'd love you to come for the whole day but you are welcome to pop in and out

Date: Tuesday, 11 September, 9am-3.30pm
Venue: Nordmeyer Lecture Theatre, UOW campus, Wellington

Email for more information

Visit our website for more about Otago's research in infectious disease:
Infectious Disease Research at Otago

Student poster competition

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

2018 Student poster competition guidelines (PDF 75 KB)

Entries close: 5 pm, 10 August 2018

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

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


Infectious disease research presenters

Professor Michael Baker

Michael Baker Professor Michael Baker is a public health physician and Professor in the Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington. He has a particular focus on environmental health, infectious diseases, and housing.

Michael is the Director of the Health Environment Infection Research Unit (HEIRU) and the Co-Director of He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme. In 2013 he was awarded the HRC Liley Medal for his contribution to the health and medical sciences, and in 2014 he was a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Science Prize. In 2015 he was the NZ-UK Link Foundation Visiting Professor at the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London.

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Professor Gregory M Cook, FRSNZ

Topic: Targeting pathogen energetics to produce new antimicrobials

Greg Cook Professor Greg Cook's research is focused on developing bacterial metabolism and energetics as a new target space for drug development to combat bacterial pathogens in humans (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and treat and prevent disease in food animals and plants. The goal of this work is to produce new and fast-acting drugs that will address the issues of antimicrobial resistance and persistence.

Cook leads a multidisciplinary science team:

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Dr Jo Kirman

Topic: Vaccines against TB

Jo KirmanDr Jo Kirman's areas of research include Animal Disease, Applied and Molecular Immunology, Medical Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis, Vaccines Immunology and Technology.

Her primary research focus is the generation and maintenance of the protective T-cell immune response to Tuberculosis (TB). Tuberculosis kills over one million people worldwide each year. Additionally, she is interested in how to prevent paediatric infectious diseases including human respiratory syncytial virus and rotavirus.

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Professor Kurt Krause

New anti-microbial developments

Kurt Krause imageProfessor Kurt Krause is a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Otago.

He has a longstanding interest in structure and function in biology and his research areas include the structure and function of enzymes and proteins important in infectious diseases, such as bacterial pathogenesis factors, antibiotic targets, viral immunomodulatory proteins, and bioluminescence related proteins.

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Amanda Kvalsvig

Topic: Meningococcal disease

Amanda KvalsvigAmanda Kvalsvig previously worked in clinical paediatrics and has now moved to epidemiological research. She is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Public Health and her interests currently include investigating the drivers of recurrent admissions in children and the effect of household crowding on infectious disease incidence.

The primary aim of her PhD is to estimate the effect of prehospital parenteral antibiotics on case fatality risk in meningococcal disease: an important clinical question, but a challenging one to address using observational data. This study has raised additional concerns about New Zealanders’ access to treatment during the recent meningococcal disease epidemic.

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Associate Professor Brian Monk

Topic: Antifungals and antifungal resistance (including what is known about the spread of antifungal resistance in human pathogens due to the use of antifungals in agriculture)

Brian MonkAssociate Professor Brian Monk considers it imperative that new ways are discovered to combat infectious disease, especially where clinically significant drug resistance has emerged.

Dr Monk uses molecular genetic manipulation of yeast and bacterial systems to express drug targets for effective screening of compound libraries. Most of the antifungal targets he has developed are membrane proteins. Other targets include fungal transcription factors and enzymes involved in fungal riboflavin biosynthesis.

The yeast expression system patented by Dr Monk in 2003 is used widely to express membrane proteins from a range of sources including pathogenic fungi, plants, and humans.

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Associate Professor Patricia Priest

Topic: Overview of public health issues

Patricia Priest imageAssociate Professor Patricia Priest is Head of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the Dunedin School of Medicine. She has research interests in infectious disease epidemiology and prevention / control, screening, and public health / epidemiology.

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Associate Professor Bruce Russell

Topic: Parasite research and its relevance to New Zealand

Bruce RussellAssociate Professor Bruce Russell investigates Vivax Malaria (or Relapsing Malaria), the most widely distributed, difficult to diagnose and treat cause of human malaria.

Dr Russell's laboratory focuses in of the biology of the parasite Plasmodium vivax (the cause of vivax malaria) and how we can kill it using therapeutics or vaccinations. To do this his team has developed key ex vivo tools and methods to examine P. vivax drug susceptibility and reticulocyte invasion. In addition to vivax malaria the lab also undertakes research into the biology and epidemiology of protozoal parasites of importance to human health in New Zealand.

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Dr James Ussher

Topic: New technologies for diagnostics

James Ussher Dr James Ussher's research interest is infection and immunity. In particular, he is interested in mucosal associated invariant T (MAIT) cells, their role in antibacterial immunity, and how they might be harnessed to prevent or treat bacterial infection.

He has been involved in several fundamental discoveries in MAIT cell biology. He is also interested in the antimicrobial resistance, in particular its rapid detection, characterisation, and transmission, especially in Enterobacteriaceae. His clinical specialty is medical microbiology.

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