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Thursday 11 November 2021 2:00pm

Khoon Lim
Dr Khoon Lim

Dr Khoon Lim can't quite believe that he has been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship.

The fellowship, which means he will receive $800,000 in funding over five years, will allow him to accelerate his research which has the potential to alleviate the world's organ shortage crisis.

Dr Lim, from the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Musculoskeletal Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch, is one of three emerging Otago researchers to be awarded the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship by the Royal Society Te Apārangi this year.

He is joined by Dr Alana Alexander (Ngāpuhi: Te Hikutu, Pākehā), from the Department of Anatomy, in the School of Biomedical Sciences, and Dr Htin Lin Aung, from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, in the School of Biomedical Sciences. They will also receive $800,000 each over five years.

University of Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise, Professor Richard Blaikie, says the fellowships will accelerate the research for three of Otago's best and brightest emerging leaders.

“The research programmes on our Dunedin and Christchurch campuses will be enhanced significantly and, more importantly, communities across Aotearoa and the world will benefit from their discoveries,” Professor Blaikie says.

Dr Alana Alexander
Dr Alana Alexander

“We congratulate them, and all the other Rutherford Discovery Fellows, on these prestigious awards.”

Dr Lim's study aims to overcome the barriers of engineering living tissues in a laboratory, and the fellowship has brought him one step closer to 3D-bioprinting functioning.

“In Aotearoa, the waiting time for an organ donor is often between 4 to 30 months and many people suffer complications or die before a donation becomes available,” he says.

While there have been past breakthroughs in creating living tissues, the largest functional, laboratory-made tissue is only about 2mm in size.

Dr Lim says scaling this up is hindered by the inability to incorporate functional blood vessel systems within these tissues, which is critical for survival of the organs.

While he still can't quite believe the news, he is “absolutely stoked” to receive the fellowship, he says.

Dr Alexander receives the award for her research which will look at the past impacts of fisheries on the endangered Hector's and Māui dolphins and use genomics to predict the impact of future climate change on whales and dolphins.

She is also dedicated to co-developing “science pūrākau” with hapū – a way of translating her scientific work into memorable narratives that will empower those who hold kaitiakitanga and rangatiratanga over taonga species.

Dr Htin Lin AungDr Htin Lin Aung

“Many iwi have strong relationships with whales and dolphins, however, there have been barriers to putting insights of genomic research on taonga species into the hands of hapori Māori.

“Science pūrākau will help support the significance and legitimacy of Te Ao Māori knowledge structures,” Dr Alexander says.

Dr Htin Lin Aung, from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, receives the fellowship for his research using bacterial genomics which will develop community and patient-centred tuberculosis (TB) healthcare services, in order to tackle health inequalities.

“Māori and Pasifika, respectively, have 6- and 16-times higher rates of TB compared to Pākehā,” he says.

“Inequities in TB also carry health implications not only for an individual, but for whānau and the wider community.”

Dr Aung says the fellowship allows him to mentor the next generation of researchers, particularly Māori and Pasifika students and early career researchers, which will help diversify Aotearoa's health research workforce.

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