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Otago appoints inaugural chair in neurosurgery


Saturday 16 June 2012 10:49am

Dirk De RidderProfessor Dirk De Ridder

A leading Belgian neurosurgeon and brain researcher has been appointed as the inaugural Neurological Foundation Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Otago. An ongoing campaign led by the Foundation is seeking to ensure that this professorial position can be funded in perpetuity.

The appointee, Professor Dirk De Ridder, has been on the neurosurgical staff at one of Belgium’s leading hospitals, Antwerp University Hospital, since 2000. He is a Professor of Neuromodulation and Neurosurgery at Antwerp University and is a founder and director of both a brain research centre and a tinnitus research initiative in Antwerp.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says that she is delighted that Professor De Ridder, who was selected from an international field of outstanding clinicians and researchers, has accepted the offer of the Chair.

Professor De Ridder will take up his joint University of Otago-Southern District Health Board roles in February. He will be based within the University’s Department of Surgical Sciences as head of New Zealand’s first academic neurosurgery unit and will spend 50% of his time as a neurosurgeon at Dunedin Hospital serving Otago and Southland residents, as well as patients referred from elsewhere, and 50% on research and teaching.

Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Crampton warmly welcomes Professor De Ridder’s appointment, saying that he is ideally-equipped to lead the development of an academic neurosurgical centre of excellence in Dunedin.

“Professor De Ridder has authored numerous book chapters and papers in his field and successfully pursued clinical research seeking novel ways to treat patients with distressing disorders such as tinnitus and phantom pain. He is also at the forefront of non-clinical brain research, including exploring the neural basis of religion and morality,” he says.

Professor Crampton says Professor De Ridder will be an invaluable addition to Otago’s existing body of world-leading researchers working in the neurosciences.

Alongside his research and clinical neurosurgical duties, Professor De Ridder will also be involved in teaching of medical undergraduates and assist in the teaching and development of registrars, junior medical officers and other staff in training.

Southern District Health Board CEO Carole Heatly says she is delighted with the appointment.

“Joint appointments such as this offer many benefits to the community, as they enable a direct link between research and health care delivery. This regional service will help
showcase how DHBs can work collectively to provide improved and more sustainable services to their populations,” Ms Heatly says.

South Island Neurosurgical Service Clinical Director Mr Martin MacFarlane says that with Professor De Ridder’s appointment as Professor of Neurosurgery and his arrival in early 2013 as the third permanent neurosurgeon appointed in Dunedin, the number of neurosurgical consultants in Dunedin will reach the required minimum of three neurosurgeons.

“This should ensure the ongoing provision of neurosurgery from the Dunedin node and thus further enhance the provision of neurosurgery by the South Island Neurosurgical Service for all South Islanders and should also enable the development of academic neurosurgery which will benefit all New Zealanders,” he says.

Professor De Ridder’s neurosurgical interests include skull base surgery, pituitary surgery, acoustic neuroma surgery, microvascular decompression surgery, surgery for tinnitus, and
electrical and magnetic brain stimulation. He gained his medical qualifications from the University of Ghent in Belgium in 1992 and his PhD from Antwerp University in 2005. During the 1990s he trained as a resident neurosurgeon at hospitals in Belgium and South Africa.

Neurological Foundation Campaign Project Manager Mrs Irene Mosley says the early appointment of Professor De Ridder is testament to the generosity of the people of Otago and Southland.

“Without the immense community support, we would not be in the position to appoint so soon. However, it’s important to recognise that we are not quite there yet. To provide a continued neurosurgical service for the region in perpetuity as we hope to, we still need just under $700,000 to reach our goal of $3 million. We feel certain that this is possible given the generosity and community support we have seen so far,” says Mrs Mosley.

Professor De Ridder says he is greatly looking forward to moving to Dunedin to take up the Chair.

“New Zealand is a beautiful country with friendly people and a no-nonsense mentality. As well as being a good place to raise my two boys, Dunedin is home to world-renowned neuroscientists, which will provide me with great opportunities for new collaborations.

“I intend to continue my high-technology neuromodulation (brain stimulation) research here, as this is the future of neurosurgery as it will lead to new therapies for pathologies that have limited treatment options at the moment.”

Professor De Ridder says New Zealand has a high quality of medical care and he is looking forward to collaborating with neurosurgeons in Christchurch to develop a unified South Island Service with two hubs.

For more information, contact:

Professor Peter Crampton
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Health Sciences)
University of Otago
Tel +64 3 479 7413

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