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Khoon Lim image
Dr Khoon Lim

A University of Otago Christchurch engineer is developing a ‘lego’ system to 3D-bioprint bone; a solution that could one day replace the billions-of-dollars-worth of ceramic and titanium implants required by New Zealand patients annually.

Dr Khoon Lim is one of three University of Otago researchers to receive a prestigious Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship for his project, with the Health Research Council announcing today 26 Otago health researchers and students will receive funding through the Career Development Awards.

The Health Research Council has awarded more than NZ$10 million in grants nationally with Otago researchers receiving more than NZ$3.5million and Dr Lim NZ$487,549 over four years.

Dr Lim says that bone is a hugely complex tissue to create. Bone that can be implanted and survive in a patient needs to be strong, include “growth factors” and living cells, and have functional blood flow. Currently, surgeons either fix bone defects with “hard” replacements such as ceramic implants, or transplant small pieces of bone harvested from the patient’s own body – a solution with many limitations, such as limited supply and prolonged time in surgery.

Dr Lim, who works at the University of Otago’s Christchurch Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering (CReaTE) research group, has invented a system to separately bio-print the elements required for functional bone, such as “growth factors” and living bone cells, together into a 3-dimensional form. He says the approach is like using different colours and shapes of Lego building blocks to create one functional form.

He is hopeful his system could one day provide a better treatment for people suffering from bone defects and injuries, and save the health system a lot of money. In 2007, NZ$3.3 billion was spent on treating bone defects in New Zealand; a cost predicted to increase by a third by 2020.

Dr Lim’s colleague, Senior Research Fellow Dr Katie Douglas from the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch, also received a Sir Charles Hercus Health Fellowship worth NZ$427,424 for her research into enhancing long-term recovery in mood disorders.

R Brown Hercus image
Dr Rosie Brown

While Dr Rosie Brown, a Research Fellow in the Department of Anatomy, School of Biomedical Sciences, was the other Hercus Health Fellowship recipient receiving NZ$500,000. Dr Brown says the Fellowship will allow her to broaden her research to look at the role the hormone prolactin plays in the reward circuitry of the brain and its impact on how a mother cares for her infant after birth.

The research has important implications for understanding how the brain regulates mood and behaviour during pregnancy and in the early postpartum period. By understanding these pathways, Dr Brown hopes it could lead to the development of more effective diagnostic tools and strategies to treat those that suffer from postpartum mood disorders.

The Health Research Council’s Career Development Awards help foster the health research workforce in New Zealand, in keeping with the Council’s commitment to building capacity and capability within the research community.

A Bachelor of Health Sciences student, Zaine Akuhata-Huntington, has been awarded a NZ$5,000 Māori Health Research Summer Studentship to explore potential reasons rangatahi Māori have higher suicide rates than non-Māori.

Zaine Akuhata-Huntington image
Zaine Akuhata-Huntington

According to figures released by the Ministry of Justice, the suicide rate for Māori to June was 23.72 people per 100,000 – almost 10 more than the non-Māori rate (13.94 per 100,000).

Zaine, of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāi Tuhoe descent, says there was a common theme throughout his lectures.

“The Māori suicide rates kept coming up, and there was no clear reason as to why they were so much higher,” he says.

Zaine, who has finished his second year and is majoring in Māori Health, says the recognition is important because it validates the research and its intentions of reducing Māori suicide numbers.

“This project is also about that whole drive to reduce inequities while helping our people get back on a level playing field.”

Biomedical scientist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu of the University of Otago, Wellington, has been awarded the Sir Thomas Davis Te Patu Kite Rangi Ariki Fellowship worth NZ$195,162 over two years to research the development of a blood test for cancer.

Dianne Sika-Paotonu image
Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu

With collaborators, she will investigate the possibility of using circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) – small fragments of DNA from cancer tumours found in the blood – to test for cancer at an early stage in New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands.

Dr Sika-Paotonu, a New Zealand born scientist of Tongan heritage, says the work has the potential to support and improve diagnosis and health outcomes for cancer patients in New Zealand and the Pacific.

“Development of this simple method to detect cancer could improve cancer diagnostics and surveillance and lead to improved cancer health outcomes for Pacific peoples,” she says.

Waikato Hospital resident doctor Benjamin McConchie has received a Clinical Research Training Fellowship worth NZ$313,491 over four years to research his PhD at the University of Otago, Wellington. He will study the long term health, educational and socio-economic outcomes for babies admitted to neonatal intensive care units in New Zealand.

“There is currently a relative lack of New Zealand data for parents and policy makers on the life-course implications of early life adversity. The research will hopefully guide how best to help those infants at most risk of neurodevelopmental or other health challenges,” he says.

Benjamin McConchie image
Dr Benjamin McConchie

“My intention is to use this PhD to fulfil my ambition to contribute in meaningful ways to New Zealand society as a medical doctor and as an academic researcher in child health.”

Otago’s HRC career development award recipients:

Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship:
Dr Rosemary Brown, University of Otago, Dunedin
The neurobiology of maternal care; understanding the critical role of prolactin
48 months, NZ$500,000

Dr Katie Douglas, University of Otago, Christchurch
Enhancing long-term recovery in mood disorders
48 months, NZ$427,424

Dr Khoon Lim, University of Otago, Christchurch
3D Bioassembly of functional bone grafts: A lego approach
48 months, NZ$487,549

Clinical Research Training Fellowship

Dr Benjamin McConchie, University of Otago, Wellington
Long-term pan-sector outcomes for New Zealand’s NICU graduates
48 months, NZ$313,491

Dr Mohammed Moharram, University of Otago, Dunedin
Patient reported outcomes after cardiac surgery: advanced cardiac imaging study
36 months, NZ$319,613

Dr Janet Rhodes, University of Otago, Dunedin
Refining prognostic accuracy in colorectal cancer patients
36 months, NZ$292,996

Foxley Fellowship

Ms Natalie Talamaivao, University of Otago, Wellington
Racism and Māori health: translating research knowledge into policy action
16 months, NZ$131,284

Māori Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr Megan Leask, University of Otago (General Fellowship)
Reducing the burden of Metabolic disease in Māori
24 months, NZ$284,599

Māori Health Research PhD Scholarship

Ms Ngahuia Mita, University of Otago
Tairāwhiti waka, Tairāwhiti tangata - Examining Tairāwhiti voyaging philosophies
36 months, NZ$141,364

Māori Health Research Masters Scholarship

Miss Abigail Johnson, University of Otago
Physiological changes to cerebellar Purkinje neurons in Parkinsonian rats
12 months, NZ$30,253

Māori Health Research Summer Studentship

Miss Esther Pinfold, University of Otago
Pharmacokinetics of Benzathine Penicillin G in children and young people in NZ
10 weeks, NZ$5,000

Ms Ellie Baxter, University of Otago
Qualitative analysis of Māori patients' primary health care experiences
10 weeks, NZ$5,000

Mr Zaine Akuhata-Huntington, University of Otago
Māori rangatahi suicide - informant perspectives on determinants and solutions
10 weeks, NZ$5,000

Miss Manurereau Te Maunga-A-Rongo Allen, University of Otago
Tane Māori access to and perceptions of primary care
10 weeks, NZ$5,000

Ms Maia Tapsell, University of Otago
An environmental scan of Indigenous oral health providers
10 weeks, NZ$5,000

Miss Kathryn Hippolite, University of Otago
Exploring Maori health provider workers perspectives of medication challenges
10 weeks, NZ$5,000

Sir Thomas Davis Te Patu Kite Rangi Ariki Fellowship

Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu, University of Otago
The applicability of ctDNA as a diagnostic tool for early Cancer Detection
24 months, NZ$195,162

Pacific Clinical Research Training Fellowship

Dr Malama Tafunai, University of Otago
Prevalence Chronic Kidney Disease in Samoan residents in New Zealand and Samoa
36 months, NZ$320,000

Pacific Health Research Masters Scholarship

Mrs Amy Henry, University of Otago
Staying at home: A Qualitative Descriptive study on Pacific palliative care
12 months, NZ$31,244

Ms Tumanu Futi, University of Otago
Is elevated cardiac fibrosis in Pacific patients associated with reduced klotho?
12 months, NZ$32,535

Pacific Health Research Summer Studentship

Ms Bridie Laing, University of Otago
What are the reformulation preferences of children and young people receiving regular BPG injections?
3 months, NZ$5,000

Mr Jordan Taylor, University of Otago
Longitudinal quanification of unique Escherichia coli strains
3 months, NZ$5,000

Miss Fuakava Tanginoa, University of Otago
3 months, NZ$5,000

Miss Toni Anitelea, University of Otago
The Immunogenetics of Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic heart disease
3 months, NZ$5,000

Mr Adam Faatoese, University of Otago
The applicability of ctDNA as a tool for early cancer detection
3 months, NZ$5,000

Miss Oprah Pupi, University of Otago
The anti-cancer properties of traditional remedies
3 months, NZ$5,000

For further information, please contact:

Dr Khoon Lim
University of Otago, Christchurch

Liane Topham-Kindley
Senior Communications Adviser
Tel +64 3 479 9065
Mob +64 21 279 9065

Matiu Workman (for Māori media queries)
Specialist Māori Communications Adviser

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