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Otago researchers gain major science funding for innovative projects

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Wednesday, 14 September 2016 7:18am

Six innovative Otago research projects have been supported through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) 2016 Endeavour Fund round announced yesterday.

This year a total of around $12M has gone to Otago researchers through the fund, which invests in science that is designed to have a positive impact for New Zealand economically, environmentally and socially in a three- to ten-year timeframe. This places the University of Otago as the second highest university recipient of MBIE funding, having doubled its MBIE income from the 2015 Investment Round.

Three Otago projects are being supported through the Fund’s Smart Ideas initiatives category and three through its larger Research Programmes category.

Smart Ideas initiatives catalyse and rapidly test promising, innovative research ideas, and contracts are awarded for two to three years. Research Programmes are awarded for three to five years and support ambitious research ideas, with high potential to deliver significant impact for New Zealand’s economy, environment, and society.

Otago’s 2016 Endeavour Fund projects

(Only principal investigators are listed and amounts are GST exclusive)

Smart Ideas

Professor Warwick Duncan (Oral Sciences)
“Silverbone” – Otago’s nano-silver technology plus NZ-manufactured bonegraft produces unique antibacterial biomaterials”
$999,8004 over three years

“Bone grafting is often required when replacing damaged hip- and knee joints or replacing teeth that have been lost. Subsequent inflammatory disease around artificial joints or titanium dental implants or teeth may require additional bone grafting. Bone grafts may come from the patient themselves, which requires an additional surgical site and carries the risk of further complications. Alternatively, the surgeon may use artificial bone grafting substitutes. Bone graft substitutes are commonly sourced from animal bone, particularly treated beef bone, which is known as bovine bone xenograft, or BBX.

Infection of the bone-grafted site is a frequent complication, and there are increasing problems with bacteria resistant to the antibiotics used to prevent or treat these infections. Metallic silver is an alternative approach to killing bacteria that avoids the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Otago University has developed a nanoparticle medical technology that uses tiny particles of silver to prevent bacterial infection. Our new product SilverBone combines nano-silver with BBX grafts produced by a New Zealand firm from New Zealand beef bone, resulting in new bone grafting materials that are resistant to bacterial infection. These will encourage bone growth and repair when used in patients undergoing orthopaedic or oral surgical treatment.”

Dr Andrew Clarkson (Anatomy)
“enGAGing the brain to restore function”
$1 million over three years

“Stroke is the leading cause of lasting impairment and can affect anyone at any time. Until recently the brain was thought not to recover following a stroke. However, we have previously shown that if the right treatment is given at the right time following a stroke, significant improvements in motor and cognitive function can be achieved.

This three year Smart Idea project, under the leadership of a stroke biologist at the University of Otago (Dunedin), brings together leading experts in chemistry from the Ferrier Research Institute (Victoria University of Wellington) and KODE Biotech (Auckland University of Technology), and biomaterials experts at the University of Otago (Christchurch). Their common goal is to develop novel treatments to improve function following brain injury. This research builds on our team's ability to greatly simplify the synthesis of novel compounds capable of targeting any part of the brain extracellular matrix; the glue that holds all brain cells in place, vital to brain health. The team will use an iterative, smart design approach to develop and test a range of potential drugs to help patients recover from stroke.

Such novel compounds have wide-ranging potential as they have the ability to modulate many biological and physiological processes in the brain. So beyond holding great promise for treatment of stroke, in the future they may aid in improving outcomes for numerous other neurological conditions.”

Dr Eng Tan (Chemistry)
“Smart Drug Delivery Through Skin”
$933,037 over three years

“This project will revolutionise the treatment of strawberry birthmarks, and other related disfiguring conditions, such as keloid scars, by developing an effective topical treatment based on novel drug-delivery technology. The new technology involves deformable skin penetrating nanoparticles loaded to transport bioactive agents through skin directly to the affected site. We believe this new technology, which we affectionately call ‘Squish’, will stimulate a high-profit, technology-based pharmaceutical product enterprise that will occupy niche markets in the global pharmaceuticals industry.”

Research Programmes

Professor Greg Cook (Microbiology and Immunology)
“Development of next-generation sanitisers for the control of bovine mastitis in the dairy industry”
$1,681,443 over three years

“Mastitis is a bacterial infection of the udder and is the foremost production limiting disease for dairying worldwide, costing the New Zealand dairy industry over $280M pa in treatment and discarded milk. Mastitis is controlled through the use of teat sprays containing bioactive ingredients such as chlorhexidine. Chlorhexidine is also widely used for infection control in hospitals all over the world in hand and pre-surgical skin sanitisers. Mounting concerns around antimicrobial resistance mean that new, non-medical sanitisers are urgently required to manage mastitis and protect both New Zealand’s dairy industry and healthcare system from rising antimicrobial resistance. Our research aims to deliver new sanitisers by identifying, developing and testing naturally derived compounds that inhibit mastitis-causing bacteria using the micronutrient zinc. Zinc is important in the human immune response and is known to have potent anti-infective qualities. We will develop compounds that efficiently move zinc into bacterial cells, where it will exert its antimicrobial action, whilst remaining harmless to mammalian cells. These novel, non-medical compounds will pave the way for new teat-spray formulations, protecting New Zealand dairy herds from mastitis.”

Dr Nevil Pierse (Department of Public Health, Wellington)
“Ending Homelessness in New Zealand: Housing First”
$2,537,514 over five years

Over 6000 people are without any accommodation every night in New Zealand and over 40,000 lack safe secure accommodation. The consequences of homelessness exact a high cost to this country both in economic and human terms. Based on robust international evidence, the Housing First Research Team and The People’s Project together with the Universities of Otago and Waikato are developing a new model for ending homelessness through a ‘Housing First’ approach. This has been shown to provide the best environment for addressing the often complex needs of hard to reach groups. In this innovative programme, housing is unconditional. It is not ‘earned’ by compliance, rather it is a ‘right’; treatments are made available, but uptake is voluntary. This approach shifts service engagement from a forced chore, to a self-rewarding pathway. It is a paradigm shift that maximises the benefits from modern engagement services. Security of tenure provides the stability that enables participants to contribute positively to their community, society and the economy, with rising incomes and higher quality of life a common outcome across Housing First studies. The success of the Housing First approach has displaced long held assumptions about people who have complex needs, reaffirmed the importance of housing, and helped to consolidate the link between evidence and practice.

Associate Professor John Reynolds
“Targeting Drug Delivery within the brain - Building a system for human application”
$4,859,256 over four years

“This programme will stimulate a high-profit, technology-based medical device and consumables industry in New Zealand for the treatment of brain disorders. The technology will incorporate a delivery system for brain chemicals together with a controller that will manage timing and dose. Drug delivery will mimic natural release of neurochemicals in the brain, reducing side effects and improving treatment efficacy.

The new technology will enable smart, non-invasive drug delivery that will revolutionise the treatment of disorders with underlying neurochemical imbalances. We wish to expand our device concept into a drug delivery platform that will first be applied to better treat Parkinson’s disease (PD), preventing, and in theory reversing, current treatment-induced side effects in humans. Our technology could also target chemotherapy to brain cancers and arrest epileptic seizures at the site of origin.”

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

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