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Monday 12 November 2012 1:32pm

The University of Otago is committing more than $2.5M over the next five years to support the internationally outstanding work of its leading research centres.

Following a rigorous application process, 14 research groups have each been formally designated as a 'University of Otago Research Centre' for at least the next five years.

The funding from the University's Research Committee will supplement other grants and contributions from academic divisions over this period to support their world-class research activities.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie says 12 of the centres are already nationally and internationally recognised for their research excellence and the two newly established centres show similar promise.

"Each of these centres bring together many of our finest researchers in collaborative, multidisciplinary research platforms or programmes pushing the frontiers of knowledge in their areas," Professor Blaikie says.

A demonstrated commitment to reach out and engage with relevant sectors of the community, business and government was among the selection criteria for the centres.

"At Otago, we believe that it is important that our research activities can be translated into real-world benefits wherever practicable. This goal is much more likely to be achieved if researchers forge close links with the end users of the research and other interested external parties," he says.

The research the centres are undertaking covers a broad spectrum. It ranges from pursuing advances in atomic and optical physics that will underpin new technologies, through to exploring the development of colonial culture and how it has shaped New Zealand society.

Two centres are conducting large programmes looking at key aspects of how New Zealand can become more sustainable, while others have a strong focus on helping to bridge gaps between science and society.

A number of centres are involved in world-leading health-related research, with the goal of ensuring findings can be translated into improved treatment of diseases and disorders. Areas of focus include brain health; cancer; cardiovascular disease; diabetes and obesity; lifecourse studies; infectious diseases; neuroendocrinology; and oral health.

For more information, contact:

Professor Richard Blaikie
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise)
University of Otago
Tel 03 479 8513

The 14 University of Otago Research Centres and their Directors

Brain Health Research Centre

Director: Prof Wickliffe Abraham

A top priority for the Brain Health Research Centre is translating  neuroscience discoveries into real treatments for those suffering from  neurological disorders. BHRC researchers and clinicians are involved  with all stages of research on the brain from puzzling out the basic  mechanisms of how the brain works to finding treatments that harness the  brain's restorative potential, and testing of innovative therapies. The  Centre also aims to develop active educational links with the community  and schools. The BHRC includes 40 research and clinical teams spread  across 12 departments and schools. Research strengths include  investigations into mechanisms and novel therapies for neurodegenerative  disease and memory, stroke, movement disorders, vestibular and hearing  disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

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Centre for Neuroendocrinology

Director: Prof Allan Herbison

The Centre for Neuroendocrinology (CNE) is a world-leading research  centre for understanding how the brain controls hormone levels in the  blood and how these hormones act back to influence brain function.  It  has more than 70 members and nine principal investigators; four from the  Anatomy Department; four from Physiology and one from Obstetrics and  Gynaecology, Christchurch campus. It represents the largest cluster of  neuroendocrinology researchers in the Southern Hemisphere.  CNE research  leads the world in understanding the brain control of reproduction,  ranging from fertility to pregnancy to lactation. Research programmes  also examine neuroendocrine stress responses and the brain control of  fluid balance. A wide range of cutting-edge neuroscience methodologies  are utilised, ranging from molecular biology and transgenics to  electrophysiological, morphological, cell imaging and in vivo  approaches.

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Centre for Research on Colonial Culture

Director: Professor Tony Ballantyne

The Centre for Research on Colonial Culture's goal is to provide a  focus for new interdisciplinary research on the cultural development of  colonial society. The Centre is concerned with the ways in which  colonial culture was shaped by, and in turn shaped, demographic  patterns, social differentiation, technological and economic  development, religion, and the elaboration of social and political  institutions in New Zealand. The Centre's research will pursue these  issues in local, regional and national studies as well as through  broader work using the lenses of indigeneity and empire to place New  Zealand in appropriate comparative frameworks. Over the next five years  the centre will be running a programme of monthly seminars, regular  workshops and symposia, in addition to an annual conference.

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Centre for Sustainability: Agriculture, Food, Energy, Environment (CSAFE)

Director: Dr Janet Stephenson

CSAFE's mission is to facilitate transitions to sustainability  through collaborative research.  The Centre specialises in bringing  together interdisciplinary teams, usually spanning social sciences and  'hard' sciences, which focus on sustainability issues in agriculture,  food, energy and environment.  As well as CSAFE's own researchers, many  projects involve researchers from other University departments, other  universities and research agencies in New Zealand, and internationally.  Collaborators include communities, iwi, farmers, companies and  government agencies.  CSAFE aims to inform choices, adaptations and  transformations through research that is relevant to both policy and  practice, as well as theoretically innovative. Current research includes  indigenous agroecology; energy cultures in households, business and  transport; community resilience; improved decision making through  measuring on-farm sustainability; and the development of resilient farm  systems in the face of climate change.

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Centre for Translational Cancer Research

Director:  Associate Professor Parry Guilford

The Centre for Translational Cancer Research (CTCR) combines major  University of Otago research groups in cancer genetics and cancer  immunology with leading oncologists and surgeons. It currently consists  of over 20 senior scientists and clinicians from the University who  cover most fundamental and clinical areas of cancer research. The  Centre's mission is to support and conduct cancer research with an  emphasis on studies that can be expected to improve cancer treatment in a  relatively short timeframe. CTCR projects range from drug development  to immunotherapy and include diagnostic test design and personalised  medicine. The latter includes the development of simple tests that can  be used to select the best chemotherapy treatment for individual  patients and other tests that predict an individual's prognosis and the  risk of treatment side-effects.

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Christchurch Heart Institute

Director:  Professor Mark Richards

As the pre-eminent New Zealand cardiovascular research centre, the  Christchurch Heart Institute (CHI) is at the international forefront of  cutting edge advances in the diagnosis, prediction and treatment of  serious cardiovascular disease; from bench to bedside to community. The  Centre's thrust has been exploration of diagnostic, prognostic and  therapeutic innovation in common and dangerous cardiovascular disease  including acute coronary syndromes, heart failure and hypertension. The  CHI (formerly named the Christchurch Cardioendocrine Research Group) is  best known for its longstanding leadership in the field of  cardiovascular neurohormonal control. One example of its world-leading  work is the development of a blood test to diagnose and monitor heart  failure. This test saves the lives of hundreds of thousands of people  each year.

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Edgar National Centre for Diabetes & Obesity Research (ENCDOR)

Directors:  Professor Jim Mann & Associate Professor Rachael Taylor

The Edgar National Centre for Diabetes & Obesity Research  (ENCDOR) aims to determine effective solutions for two major national  health problems that are also global health challenges; obesity and  diabetes. ENCDOR's purpose is to promote collaborative cutting edge  research both nationally and internationally and involves a range of  disciplines, including nutrition, epidemiology, Māori health,  biostatistics, public health, paediatrics, microbiology, genetics and  biochemistry. Projects range from investigation of genetic profiling  which might enable the identification of individuals more likely to  benefit from interventions, to exploration of how policy and food  marketing shape our behaviour, to the public health and economic impact  of different innovative approaches to manage weight and diabetes risk at  all stages of life from birth to the elderly.

Top of list

Genetics Otago (GO)

Director:  Associate Professor Peter Dearden

Genetics Otago (GO) aims to connect with the public, media and policy  makers to improve the understanding of genetics: to provide a hub where  genetics is demystified; where user-friendly information, teaching  resources and comments from world-class geneticists can be easily  accessed, all the while supporting its members' collaborative research  projects. GO's multi-disciplinary platform of research is enormous,  ranging across sciences, health sciences, humanities, law and ethics.  Key areas of GO's strengths are human disease, developmental, microbial,  evolutionary, law, epigenetics, anthropology, conservation,  environment, applied genetics in animal and plant breeding and  bioinformatics. With more than 180 active members across multiple  disciplines, Genetics Otago's core strength is primarily based within  the University but also includes members from AgResearch (Invermay) and  commercial genetics-based companies in New Zealand.

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International Centre for Governance, Science & Society (ICGSS)

Directors:  Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan & Prof Mark Henaghan

The International Centre for Governance, Science and Society (ICGSS)  will promote and undertake research on the challenges of integrating  medical and scientific advancements with society in the face of changing  approaches being used to govern citizens and institutions, as well as  their rights, relationships and responsibilities. The ICGSS aims to be  an internationally renowned multidisciplinary research centre or 'think  tank' that undertakes research and policy development work for  governments, professional bodies and NGOs. The Centre will build on the  work, experiences and successes of collaborations with multidisciplinary  and indigenous researchers, trans-Tasman experts and international  networks developed from the five-year multidisciplinary Law  Foundation-sponsored Human Genome Research Project led by Otago's  Faculty of Law.

Top of list

Jack Dodd Centre for Quantum Technology

Director: Professor Rob Ballagh

The Jack Dodd Centre for Quantum Technology has a strong  international reputation due to its high-profile scientific research in  the areas of atomic and optical physics. The Centre has nine principal  investigators and around 20 postdoctoral fellows and students. Research  efforts are concentrated on theoretical and experimental studies of  ultra-cold atom systems, atomic scale quantum engineering, classical and  quantum optical information processing, and biophotonics. The research  areas underpin technological advances in a wide range of fields,  including, medicine, communications, sensors and navigation. The  principal investigators have expertise in many facets of high technology  including lasers and optics, control systems, and numerical  computation. The Centre has collaborations with a number of major  international groups, and is developing links to New Zealand industry.

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National Centre for Lifecourse Research (NCLR)

Directors: Professor Richie Poulton & Professor David Fergusson

The National Centre for Lifecourse Research (NCLR) conducts and  applies high-quality lifecourse research that informs policy and  practice to improve the lives of New Zealanders. Headquartered at the  University of Otago, the NCLR is an umbrella for research collaborations  between six of New Zealand's eight universities and one Crown Research  Institute. Internal partners include the Dunedin Multidisciplinary  Health and Development Research Unit; the Christchurch Health and  Development Study; and the Centre for Research on Children and Families.  External partners include research groups from AUT, Victoria, Waikato,  and Auckland universities and Environmental Science & Research  (ESR), Christchurch. The partners have a long history of conducting  lifecourse research of two main types:  i) longitudinal studies aimed at  informing policy and practice; and ii) intervention research in the  community.

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New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities

Director: Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman

The New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities is an  inter-disciplinary research centre dedicated to providing the research  base for innovative system solutions to the economic, social,  environmental and cultural development of our cities. The health and  well-being of most of our population (87% of New Zealanders live in  cities) is reliant on developing environments that take into account the  connections between housing, transport, energy, urban form, health and  governance and other issues. Centre partners include Auckland, Massey,  Victoria, and Canterbury universities and NIWA. The Centre aims to work  in local, regional and national partnerships to develop the tools to  promote well-being and health through smarter economic development,  safer and more sustainable housing, transport and energy systems, and  enhanced urban design.

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Sir John Walsh Research Institute

Director: Professor Jules Kieser

The Sir John Walsh Research Institute advances research and increases  knowledge for the improvement of oral health in New Zealand.  Its four  innovative, future-focused, inter-connected research programmes cover  the spectrum of oral health research from the molecular level through  biological systems to the health of populations. These programmes are:  Biomechanics and Oral Implantology; Dental Epidemiology and Public  Health; Molecular Microbiology; and Oral Molecular and Immunopathology.  The Institute is part of New Zealand's only Faculty of Dentistry and its  members have well-established productive collaborations across the  University and with other institutions in New Zealand and world-wide.  Among its research objectives is to develop clinical research that  translates discoveries into measurable health improvements, and to  maintain fundamental research that underpins teaching.

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Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases

Director: Professor Kurt Krause

The Webster Centre for Infectious Disease works to bring New Zealand  scientists together to address important problems in infectious diseases  in New Zealand. Based in Dunedin, the Centre has engaged more than 60  experts in both human and animal diseases from four universities and key  Crown Research Institutes, including AgResearch, ESR and IRL.  Previously focused on molecular-based projects, the Centre has now  expanded its mission to include clinical and population health research  as part of its core activities. As a result, the Centre now includes  leaders in basic, clinical and epidemiological research.  Among the many  aspects of infectious diseases that the Centre investigates are  bacterial drug resistance and evolution, antimicrobial design, viral  pathogenesis, genetics of disease susceptibility, vaccine design,  immunology and host susceptibility, diagnostics and clinical infectious  diseases, and public health.

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