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Innovative research for a healthier New Zealand

Students at a cafe in the Octagon

Monday 14 September 2009 4:14pm

Some of the most innovative health researchers in the country will be showcasing their ground-breaking work at the University of Otago, Wellington on Tuesday 15 September in a special Health Sciences Research Forum; "The Human Hive".

Over 100 health researchers from the University of Otago campuses in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin will present a wide range of findings focused on the health of the community and addressing the needs of its most vulnerable and at risk members. There are also 29 posters entered by some of New Zealand’s brightest young health scientists.

Topics to be covered in the main presentations on Tuesday range from health inequalities, medication wastage, what really causes pneumonia, to gastric bypass surgery as a way of treating diabetes and the revolutionary science of epigenetics.

The forum will be opened by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor Health Sciences, Professor Don Roberton, followed by the keynote speaker Professor Anne Kavanagh from the Key Centre for Women’s Health, University of Melbourne. She will discuss: "Socioeconomic inequalities in health: where does gender fit in?"

Professor David Murdoch from the Christchurch campus will outline the challenges involved in tracking down the bacterial or viral causes of pneumonia on a global scale. Professor Murdoch is an executive member of a US-based international research team which has just received US$40 million from the Gates Foundation for research into the causes of the world’s number one killer of children.

Professor Philip Hill, Centre for International Health, Preventive and Social Medicine, also explores how to improve treatment of infectious diseases on a global scale. He argues the need for epidemiologists, clinicians and scientists to communicate their findings and work together to solve fundamental questions regarding diseases such as tuberculosis.

Professor Tony Blakely, University of Otago Wellington (UOW), develops a decade of innovative research, by projecting an end to the ‘gap' in Māori and non-Māori life expectancy, and how NZ is going to achieve this goal in the near future. He says that Māori females will close the life expectancy gap with non-Māori females by 2035, and Males with non-Māori males by 2046.

Dr Tristam Ingham and Bernadette Jones UOW will speak on how to improve research results with Māori; discussing their current study involving Māori parents who have a child with asthma.

The possibility of being able to change the genetic make-up of children immediately before or after conception is the subject of a fascinating discussion of the new science of epigenetics. Professor Ian Morison, Dunedin School of Medicine, outlines his recent work which attempts to answer to what degree are we able to manipulate the DNA of our genes through our parents, or environmental factors such as diet?

Surgeon Professor Richard Stubbs, Wakefield Biomedical Unit at UOW, examines the novel idea that perhaps gastric bypass surgery may be the answer to Type 2 diabetes treatment for many people?

Research shows the majority of medications returned to pharmacies have 75-100% of their contents unused; a huge financial cost to the community. Dr Rhiannon Braund, Pharmacy Dunedin, discusses this issue and why people don’t use their medications, and the impacts of non-compliance.

"Doing it in a group is much more fun!" is the intriguing title of the presentation by Dr Leigh Hale, Physiotherapy. She looks at the fact that falls cost ACC $100 million a year, and 30% of people over 65 will fall at least once a year. But what can be done about it?

Dr Vincent Bennani, Dentistry, examines the question of dental implants and how they impact on the jaw’s bone structure. He says that with the increasing popularity of dental implants some people have found they have serious problems with stress on the jawbone caused by these implants. His ground-breaking research measures how this happens, and the damage it can cause, through the use of a unique three dimensional moving model of the lower jawbone.

Dr Ruth Empson from Physiology will outline her innovative research on how calcium signals in the brain influence motor performance. She demonstrates the critical role that calcium signals play in our motor performance and error correction; and how damage to a key part of the brain, the cerebellum, compromises this vital function.

Professor Kurt Krause, Biochemistry, will speak on ‘Solving molecular puzzles to aid understanding of human disease’.

The presentations in the Nordmeyer Lecture Theatre will be followed at 5.30pm by an address by the Minister of Health, Tony Ryall on "Facing the Future, Health Challenges and Changes."

For further information and contacts

Ainslie Talbot
University of Otago, Christchurch
Tel 03 364 1199
Mob 027 547 1157

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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