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Summer studentships’ health research

The Clocktowers clock

Monday 18 March 2013 10:37am

Summer studentship recipients Wellington wide
Summer studentships: (from left) Charlotte Legge, Hamish Green, Professor Sunny Collings (Dean of University of Otago, Wellington), Nathanael Lucas, and Josh Chamberlain.

The Summer Studentship Programme, based at the University of Otago’s Wellington campus, has recently presented the results of its ten week summer medical, public health and science research projects. The 40 students are from the University of Otago’s Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin campuses, along with Auckland and Victoria Universities.

The research studentships are supported by a wide range of generous sponsors and over 58 supervisors. This is often the first chance for many medical and science students to experience health research under supervision of a clinician or scientist, which may then lead to a research career.

Some of the student research projects undertaken are highlighted below. The full programme of lay summaries can be obtained from the contacts at the end of this release.

Portrayal of violence, weapons and antisocial behaviour in music videos and associations with alcohol

Laura Judge

Supervisors: Dr Lucie Collinson, Associate Professor Nick Wilson
Sponsor: ACC

This study aimed to describe the portrayal of violence, weapons, and antisocial behaviour in music videos. It involved the examination of 861 music videos which have been shown on New Zealand television.

A key finding was that over a third (39%) of these music videos portrayed at least one violence-related variable. Violence was shown in 24%, the presence of a weapon in 13%, antisocial behaviour in 11%, any death theme in 9%, suicidal behaviour in 4%, and Goth culture theme in 3%.

Violence portrayal was significantly more common in videos in which alcohol was also portrayed (35%) than when alcohol was not shown (21%). This was also the pattern for weapons portrayal at 20% and 11% respectively. A sizeable minority (42%) of videos with violence also portrayed sexual content, of which a fifth (20%) had sex and violence present in the same scene.

These portrayals are concerning given the evidence that such exposure is likely to have negative influences on the behaviour of viewers.

Harmful housing conditions in children admitted to Wellington Hospital

Ashton Kelly

Supervisors: Professor Michael Baker, Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman
Sponsor: NZ Centre for Sustainable Cities

In 2009 New Zealand was ranked 29th out of 30 countries in the OECD for child health and safety. Research into child health and safety in New Zealand has shown that a large proportion of hospital admissions for children are preventable through decreasing their exposure to risk.

For example it is well established that children living in crowded, cold and damp housing and those that are exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke have an increased risk of suffering from serious childhood diseases. In light of the potential to improve adverse housing conditions, it makes sense to screen children admitted to hospital for exposure to these risk factors.

We found that one third of parents had noticed dampness and mould in their house, 50% stated that their house was colder than they preferred during the past month and 20% lived in un-insulated houses. We also found that 20% of children lived in overcrowded houses and 38% were exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke.

Maori and Pacific children and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be exposed to these risk factors than New Zealand European children and those from higher socioeconomic areas.

A shortened version of this questionnaire administered to hospitalised children/parents would be an effective way of identifying those exposed to poor housing and to guide strategies to address these risk factors.

Pathological findings in fatal perinatal asphyxia

Hamish Green (winner of Studentship prize)

Supervisors: Associate Professor Dawn Elder, Dr Jane Zuccollo
Sponsor: Surgical Research Trust

Birth asphyxia occurs when infants are deprived of oxygen at birth. We compared the relationship between the presence of brain lesions thought to have developed during the pre-natal period, clinical features and acute catastrophic events occurring during labour. We also examined the relationship between the presence of pre-natal brain lesions and placental or umbilical cord pathology in these infants.

We reviewed autopsy reports from a period of 12 years for infants who died of birth asphyxia. Clinical factors and pathology from 60 cases were analysed. We calculated rates of pre-natal brain lesions and compared these amongst infants with and without acute catastrophic events during labour and in infants with placental or cord pathology.

48% of infants had pre-natal brain lesions. We found that the longer infants survived, the more likely they were to have developed visible evidence of new brain lesions by the time they died.

As expected, infants with clinically detectable brain damage had evidence of new lesions at autopsy. There was no difference in the rate of pre-natal brain lesions in infants experiencing an acute catastrophic event during labour compared to those not experiencing such an event. There was also no significant difference in the rate of pre-natal lesions found in infants with placental or cord pathology compared to those without.

The presence of pre-natal brain lesions found at autopsy in infants with birth asphyxia suggests an injury may have occurred prior to labour. Our findings indicate that there is still much to be understood about the cause of this pathological finding in term infants who have died of asphyxia.

Liver cancer: Survival disparities between Maori and non-Maori

Josh Chamberlain

Supervisors: Associate Professor Diana Sarfati, Dr Jason Gurney
Sponsor: Cancer Society, Wellington Division.

In New Zealand there are significant ethnic disparities in liver cancer incidence and mortality. Hepatitis B infection is an important cause of high rates of liver cancer amongst Māori, but this is changing over time and the causes of high mortality have been less well established. 

Cohorts of the entire New Zealand population for 1981-86, 1986-91, 1991-96, 1996-2001, and 2001-04 were created and linked to cancer registry records to look at trends in incidence by ethnicity over the five cohorts. In addition, a notes review of 97 Maori and 92 non-Maori liver cancer patients in New Zealand’s North Island was conducted.

Liver cancer incidence was higher among Maori for all time periods. The pooled annual rate for Maori males was four times that of European/Other and for Maori females was nearly three times their European/Other counterparts. There were no significant differences in the treatment of Māori and non-Māori patients with primary liver cancer. The prevalence of hepatitis B among Māori patients was more than double that of non- Māori .

Liver cancer remains an important health problem particularly for Māori men. Efforts to improve coverage of screening for Hepatitis B and surveillance of those with chronic hepatitis should be a priority to immediately address the large inequalities currently found in liver cancer epidemiology.

For further information and the full list of projects, contact:

Tina Uiese
Research Administrator
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel 04 918 6552

Christine Groves
Research Advisor
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel 04 918 6855

Visit our Expertise Database for a list of Otago experts available for media comment.

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