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A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Close date
Thursday, 30 April 2020
Academic background
Sciences, Health Sciences
Host campus
Paediatrics and Child Health (Wellington)
Dr Dr Rebecca Dyson, Associate Professor Max Berry, Dr Clint Gray



Healthy babies grow and develop into healthy adults. Babies who have delivered preterm are more likely to experience complications in early life and be predisposed to illness during adult life, than their healthy term-born peers.

It has been suggested that a postnatal omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, particularly DHA deficiency, resulting from preterm birth may play a role in the established latent cardiorespiratory risk.

In a large, multi-centre clinical trial, DHA supplementation at a dose of 60mg/kg/day did not result in a lower risk of physiological bronchopulmonary dysplasia than a control emulsion among preterm infants born before 29 weeks of gestation and may have resulted in a greater risk.

We hypothesise that the difference between anticipated and observed outcome may be due to lipid sequestering in specific tissues, reducing bioavailability in key target organs.
Understanding lipid sequestering following preterm birth and subsequent supplementation using a validated translational animal model (the guinea pig), will allow us to:

  1. Design relevant future targeted therapeutic interventions
  2. Ientify key organ systems for investigation in follow up studies of children previously enrolled in the N3RO clinical trial
  3. Ucover crucial information relating to membrane physiology of the preterm infant and how this may contribute to dysfunctional signalling in the vessel wall, which may in turn contribute to (cardio)vascular dysfunction and disease in survivors

We are seeking an interested student to carry out a project working with samples collected from our longitudinal model of preterm birth, and:

  1. Quantify in neonatal and juvenile animals born preterm or at term, local and systemic concentrations of DHA in organs known to be vulnerable to the effects of preterm birth (e.g. brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidney)
  2. Establish how DHA supplementation in the newborn period alters tissue accretion of DHA in organs, and if this is altered by preterm birth
  3. Establish the relationship between preterm-associated liver dysfunction and hepatic DHA-accretion

The overall aim is to use this translational pre-clinical platform to support and complement the parallel human trials. You will establish the basic science underpinning the consequences of both DHA-deficiency and supplementation in those born preterm. Understanding the partitioning of DHA supplementation to this unique group will allow us to determine how key organs in the DHA-deficient preterm sequester of utilise supplemented DHA. Characterising this will allow us to design more targeted therapeutic strategies in the future.

You will learn lab skills, statistical analysis, developing writing skills and involvement in writing manuscripts for publication from data gathered from this study.

Please contact Dr Becs Dyson for further details or any questions you may have.


Dr Rebecca Dyson
Tel +64 27 581 2969

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