Thursday 15 August 2019 10:47am
Dr Karl Iremonger
Dunedin neuroscientist and physiologist Dr Karl Iremonger has been awarded the 2019 Rowheath Trust Award and Carl Smith Medal.
The award is one of the University’s highest research honours, and is given to recognise outstanding research performance of early career staff.
Dr Iremonger’s research focuses on an area of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls many survival functions such as appetite, temperature and stress responses.
He conducted internationally significant research when he helped discover a new class of neuronal communication in the hypothalamus – leading to a new understanding of how brain cells communicate.
He is currently researching how brain cells in the hypothalamus process and adapt to stress. This involves live imaging of brain cells using both microscopes and fibre optic technology. Not only is the research cutting edge, the technology behind it is too – some of it is designed in-house.
“We have actually had to develop our own equipment,” Dr Iremonger says. “When we started this, there just wasn’t a lot of commercially available stuff out there, so we had to work with a local Dunedin company and build our own.”
That trailblazing attitude has ensured his research reputation has continued to build, with a catalogue of awards and major grants already behind him and 22 peer-reviewed journal articles published.
University of Otago Deputy-Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise Professor Richard Blaikie says it is the scale and consistency of Dr Iremonger’s research achievements that led to his being selected for the award.
“Dr Iremonger has proved himself to be an exceptional early career researcher, and his award of the Prime Minister’s Emerging Scientist prize in 2014 is particularly notable. He is a vital member of a large and successful research team, contributing greatly to the work of others, and is an outstanding winner of this prestigious award.”
Dr Iremonger says his thirst for research started as a University of Otago Bachelor of Physical Education student, 15 years ago.
“It was serendipitous really. I ended up working on a research project in physical education, studying how people with multiple sclerosis cope with exercise. When their body temperature rises their symptoms get worse, and we were looking at some ways to possibly prevent this.
“That was really my first introduction to both research and neuroscience. And it kind of got me hooked. Addressing one question always leads you to another and there are certainly more questions than I can answer in my lifetime when it comes to understanding how the brain works.
“But the underlying motivation is to make important discoveries; discoveries that will shed significant light on how the brain functions.”
He gained his neuroscience PhD in 2010 from the University of Calgary, Canada, and has been back at the University of Otago since 2010.
The recognition that comes from the prestigious Rowheath Trust Award and Carl Smith Medal is significant, he says.
“It really is an honour. To be given recognition for the work you’re doing, and to be validated for the work you’re doing; it’s really appreciated.
“It also helps promote the work the whole team is doing here, and it will help us share our work with a wider audience.”
To celebrate the award Dr Iremonger will present The Carl Smith Medal Lecture at 5.30pm on Wednesday 20 November in Burns 1, Arts Building, Dunedin.