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Health Research Excellence Awards celebrate staff

Thursday 31 May 2018 9:22pm

Professor Stephen Robertson (left) with the Dean of the Dunedin School of Medicine Professor Barry Taylor, after Professor Robertson won the Dean’s Medal for Research Excellence at the Health Research Excellence Awards last night. Photos: Jacqui Hay.

University of Otago Curekids Professor of Paediatric Genetics Stephen Robertson is considered an outstanding leader in his field internationally, and last night his achievements were formally recognised closer to home at the Health Research Excellence Awards in Dunedin.

Professor Robertson, who continues to be an active clinical geneticist attached to Genetic Health Services New Zealand, in addition to teaching genetics to science and medical students, was awarded the Dean’s Medal for Research Excellence. This is awarded for exceptional and sustained work in research in the Dunedin School of Medicine.

"His discoveries in understanding how our genes translate to development, especially of the brain, have led the world."

From 1999 to 2002 he held a Nuffield Medical Fellowship at the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University, studying the genetic basis of a set of genetic disorders characterised by severe life-limiting malformations in children. As a result, he has identified several genes which lead to malformations in children, with a particular focus on conditions that affect the skeleton and brain.

Dean of the Dunedin School of Medicine, Professor Barry Taylor says Professor Robertson is one of the School’s outstanding clinician scientists.

“His discoveries in understanding how our genes translate to development, especially of the brain, have led the world,” Professor Taylor says.

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

Professor Rachael Taylor is awarded the Research Development Investment prize by the Dean of the Otago Medical School Professor Peter Crampton.

Recipient of the Dean’s Medal for Research Excellence in 2013, Professor Rachael Taylor, the Karitane Fellow in Early Childhood Obesity and Director of the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre, was awarded the Research Development Investment prize.

As a result, Professor Taylor will receive a $100,000 grant for an international collaboration investigating the role of sleep in child health and wellbeing. One in three New Zealand children are overweight or obese by the time they are only two to four years old and given the lack of successful treatment, effective prevention of obesity early in life is seen as the major way forward, Professor Taylor explains.

A limited number of interventions have tested behaviours typically linked to weight management like diet and physical activity. But contrary to expectations, changing these behaviours in young children has proven to be challenging.

“It is time to think outside of the box for obesity intervention targets and sleep may be just the answer,” Professor Taylor says.

Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming says the close ties between the DHB and the Dunedin School of Medicine are tremendously beneficial for improving health care delivery and patient care, as well as for academic research.

"It is time to think outside of the box for obesity intervention targets and sleep may be just the answer."

“It is gratifying to see clinicians using their everyday clinical experiences and observations to effect changes for our own patients and communities,” Mr Fleming says.

“Through the promotion and publication of their research findings, the outcomes of this important work will also have benefits for patients far beyond our district.”

A large team of clinicians and researchers are involved in a medicines project aimed at improving patient health care which received the award for Best Collaboration between the Dunedin School of Medicine and Southern District Health Board.

Led by Dunedin Hospital Pharmacy Manager Craig MacKenzie and Associate Professor Rhiannon Braund, from the Pharmacovigilance Centre, the project aims to reduce medicines errors for patients being discharged from hospital. They have developed an electronic prioritisation tool to identify patients at risk of admission and are almost set to begin a trial using the tool on high-risk patients to investigate the effectiveness of a Clinical Pharmacist’s intervention.

For the first time, in the awards’ history, two $100,000 grants for Health Service Delivery Research were granted. Usually, there is just one grant.

A Dunedin Hospital-based project investigating the use of naturalistic light to improve patients’ sleep quality, recovery and well-being received one of the grants. Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine Dr Ben Brockway, Psychogeriatrician Associate Professor Yoram Barak and Assistant Research Fellow Kristina Aluzaite will investigate whether installing lights that mimic natural sunlight would create a better environment for both patients and staff.

A team from Dunedin Hospital’s Department of Surgery and the Dunedin School of Medicine secured the second $100,000 grant for their project aimed at better health outcomes for surgical patients.

Consultant general surgeons Jon Potter and John Woodfield and Tracey de Woeps, a manager within the Dunedin School of Medicine’s Department of Surgical Sciences, aim to create a patient-based electronic post-surgery follow up system with the ability for patients to automatically alert health practitioners in both primary and secondary care when a problem develops. Ideally enabling more timely, appropriate and efficient patient support.

The full list of award winners is:

Research Publication Awards
Professor Philip Hill – Impact of the Introduction of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccination on Pneumonia in the Gambia
Dr Judith Marsman – A DNA Contact Map for the Mouse Runx1 Gene Identifies Novel Haematopoietic Enhancers
Dr Lianne Parkin – Antidepressants, Depression and Venous Thromboembolism Risk: Large Prospective Study of UK Women
Michael Meier (Best published paper by a Masters or PhD Student) – Cohesin Facilitates Zygotic Genome Activation in Zebrafish

Dunedin School of Medicine Departmental Awards
Bronwyn Hughes – Excellence in Research Support (Dunedin School of Medicine)
Dr Amy Richardson – Early Career Researcher Award (Dunedin School of Medicine)
Merrilee Williams – Medicine Excellence in Research Support
Dr Lauralie Richard – Jan Breward Award for Research Excellence in General Practice
Sarah-Jane Robertson – Excellence in Research Support (Women’s and Children’s Health)
Katie Young – Excellence in Research Support (Pathology)

Clinical Research Scholarship
Dr Carol Atmore

The Emily Johnston Scholarship
Dr Gloria Dainty

New Researcher Start Up Award
Associate Professor Yoram Barak, Dr Steve Johnson, Dr John Woodfield, Dr Kate Morgaine

Gil Barbezat Summer Studentship Prize
Sharmaine Sreedhar – Multimorbidity and multiple social disadvantage in a high needs primary health care clinic population

Super Summer Student
Nicholas Hall – A simple non-invasive test to help identify those with aneurysms in the community
Isabelle Lomax-Sawyers – Discourse analysis of the public debate on the End of Life Choice Bill