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Otago biomedical researcher gains James Cook Fellowship


Thursday 7 October 2010 2:57pm

He Kitenga Tony Poole photo. A University of Otago scientist has gained a prestigious James Cook Research Fellowship to investigate the crucial roles that a previously overlooked cell structure plays in health and disease.

The two-year fellowship will allow Associate Professor Tony Poole to further his study of primary cilia, which are hair-like appendages found on the outside of nearly all animal cells.

Associate Professor Poole says that until recently these structures were largely thought of as non-functional evolutionary relics, but it is now clear that they are key players in a wide variety of cellular processes.

“Primary cilia act like sensory probes that test the environment and pass information to the cell about what to do. Researchers have now found that many previously unexplained diseases occur when primary cilia malfunction and these are now collectively termed ‘ciliopathies’,” he says.

Associate Professor Poole and colleagues have discovered a flock of New Zealand sheep with mutated primary cilia producing a ciliopathy very similar to the rare and lethal human genetic disorder called Meckel-Gruber Syndrome.

He will use cells and tissues from this animal model to better understand how primary cilia interact with their environment, how they communicate this information to the cell, and how they co-ordinate the cellular feed-back response. He will also examine how their failure can lead to human diseases.

Associate Professor Poole says he is delighted to receive a James Cook Research Fellowship.

“This will help maintain my long-term commitment to the study of primary cilia function, and its fundamental impact on the health and welfare of all New Zealanders.”

James Cook Research Fellowships allow researchers to undertake concentrated work in their fields of expertise for two years. Valued at $126,500 each year, they are awarded to researchers who demonstrate that they have achieved national and international recognition in their area of scientific research. The Royal Society of New Zealand administers them on behalf of the Government.

For more information, contact

Associate Professor Tony Poole
Department of Medicine
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 474 0999 ext 8613

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