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Issue 369 | 27th February 2015 | Previous Issues

A personal message from the Dean

First I wish to welcome all our new and returning students to the faculty. On Wednesday I had the pleasure of addressing a large turnout of first year students in FMHS and NICAI at a pōwhiri on the University Marae. 

I told them that I knew just how they were feeling since it only seems like yesterday when I was sitting in their place, excited but feeling alone and unsure of the right direction. The fact that I’m still at university 40 years later could suggest that I still haven’t decided on a career!

Over the weekend I attended an international summit of 24 Academic Health Centres held in Frankfurt Germany. These ranged from the very large and well established – such as the six centres under University of Texas down to newly established academic health centres in Africa and the Middle East. 

I was surprised that while the governance and funding differed widely, the goals and principles were exactly the same with the desire to integrate the academic knowledge, research and discovery to advancing clinical and health outcomes. 

It was also interesting to note that the once highly profitable US health centre model, that has enjoyed very significant margins on clinical service to fund research, is now under great pressure to reduce those costs. The Auckland Academic Health Alliance model was viewed with great interest.

On Thursday morning I attended the international launch of the Ryman Prize by the Prime Minister John Key, held at the University of Auckland. This is a generous US$150,000 prize that will be awarded annually to support any form of research or innovation that seeks to improve the lives of the elderly. You can find more information about the prize using this link.


John Fraser PhD FRSNZ

Dean, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

The University of Auckland

Symposium on Mental Health and Social Justice in Aotearoa New Zealand

Image of Professor Bernadette McSherry
Professor Bernadette McSherry

Recently the Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR) hosted a two day symposium at the Grafton Campus of our Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

This symposium aimed to create a supportive environment in which users of mental health services, advocates, clinicians and researchers could collaborate in constructive conversations on social justice issues in mental health.

This was the second symposium of this kind hosted by the Centre, and has attracted a great response to the distinguished guest at the event, Professor Bernadette McSherry, University of Melbourne.

The opening keynote speaker Anne Helm, spoke about the ‘clinical colonisation’ of the concept of recovery, referring to the argument that its meaning may now have shifted significantly. Anne referred to the service user origins of the concept, emphasising the person-centred journey, and the shift to today’s clinical practices that are constrained by organisational risk.

The topics presented by delegates continued the themes of risk, human rights, mental health law and cultural competence.

The continued use of seclusion and restraint in mental health services was a significant topic; Dr Hinemoa Elder emphasised the disproportionate use of these practices amongst Maori.

Dr Elder’s keynote speech took delegates on a journey into the Maori world, emphasising how services could create better outcomes for Maori service users if they stepped outside western frameworks and realised the potential to consider mental distress from a Maori world view.

There was opportunity for the wider community to gain insights from the symposium when Professor Bernadette McSherry gave a public address as part of the event.

Her dynamic public address considered the idea of moving mental health services from a focus of coercion to choice. Professor McSherry argued that process might be possible if the preventative mechanisms of the ‘United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ are realised.

Delegates were invited to consider the idea of using the momentum created by conversations at the symposium to facilitate a national mental health and social justice network. This network would allow a collective to produce agendas for research, policy and service change.

Congratulations to Drs Katey Thom and Jacquie Kidd, and all involved in making the symposium such a success.


New Zealand National Eye Centre annual summer student symposium

Image of From left Distinguished Professor Ian Reid, Jeremy Mathan, Himanshu Wadhwa, Michael Wang and Associate Professor Warwick Bagg
From left Distinguished Professor Ian Reid, Jeremy Mathan, Himanshu Wadhwa, Michael Wang and Associate Professor Warwick Bagg

On Friday 20 September 2014, New Zealand National Eye Centre (NZ-NEC) hosted its annual summer student symposium.

At the event 16 summer students from the schools of Ophthalmology, Optometry and Vision Science, and Pharmacy gave presentations on the research projects that they had worked on over a ten-week period of summer studentships.

The symposium provided an excellent opportunity for the students to share the results of their summer studentship with the wider ophthalmic and optometry communities, their supervisors, colleagues and peers while at the same time boosting their confidence in presenting.  

The presentations were judged by Deputy Dean, Distinguished Professor Ian Reid, and Associate Professor Warwick Bagg, Head of the Medical Programme.

Both judges commented on not only the high level of presentation skills demonstrated by the students, but also the time and effort the students and their supervisors invested in preparing each presentation.

NZ-NEC symposium winners:

First prize – Michael Wang, third year MBChB student

Supervised by Associate Professor Jennifer Craig, Department of Ophthalmology. Michael’s scholarship was funded by Ocular Surface Laboratory Research Funds held by UniServices.

Second prize - Himanshu Wadhwa, fourth year MBChB student

Supervised by Associate Professor Trevor Sherwin, Department of Ophthalmology.

Himanshu’s scholarship was funded by the Tom Cat Trust.

Third prize - Jeremy Mathan, fourth year MBChB student

Supervised by Dr Hussain Patel, Associate Professor Dipika Patel and Professor Charles McGhee, Department of Ophthalomology.


Congratulations to our student winners. Thank you to all the supervisors and funders for their generous support and guidance. 


Fellowship awarded for research into novel bone graft substitutes

Dr Ryan Gao from our Department of Surgery and Auckland Bone and Joint Research Group recently received a Health Research Council (HRC) Clinical Research Training Fellowship.

His PhD, ‘In vitro and in vivo evaluation of novel bone graft substitutes’ will address the fundamental problem of non-unions. The research seeks to find clinically applicable solutions to combat this global, growing epidemiological condition.

In New Zealand, up to 50% of women and 30% of men will experience a fracture in their lifetime. Unfortunately, despite advances in modern medicine and surgery, up to 5% of all fractures and 20% of high energy fractures fail to adequately heal, leading to a condition known as non-unions.

Furthermore, large areas of bone loss due to trauma or tumour resections may exceed the body’s regenerative capabilities.

Currently, autologous bone grafting remains the ‘gold standard’ treatment for non-union and to encourage bony union in spinal, oncologic and maxillofacial procedures.

As an orthopaedic surgical trainee, Ryan recognises the extreme physical and emotional burden that non-unions place on the patient and society in general.

He is working under the tutelage of orthopaedic surgeon Mr. Jacob Munro and world leaders in bone biology and regenerative medicine at the Auckland Bone and Joint Research Group.


International collaboration delivers exciting advancement in TB drug development

Image of The successful TB drug development team from the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre at the Faculty, are (from left), Senior Research Fellows Dr Hamish Sutherland, Dr Andrew Thompson, and Dr Adrian Blaser with Professor Bill Denny (at rear), and Associate Professor Brian Palmer (at right)
The successful TB drug development team from the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre at the Faculty, are (from left), Senior Research Fellows Dr Hamish Sutherland, Dr Andrew Thompson, and Dr Adrian Blaser with Professor Bill Denny (at rear), and Associate Professor Brian Palmer (at right)

Tuberculosis will kill 1.5 million people this year, and every year thereafter, until science finds a way to stop the deadly disease in its tracks.  Researchers at the University of Auckland are playing a significant role in this battle.

Our researchers have been crucial in the development of a potential tuberculosis (TB) drug that is the first to advance to Phase One clinical trial since 2009.

In New York, the TB Alliance recently announced the start of the first human trial of “TBA-354”. The trial emerged from studies designed to identify a next generation nitroimidazole compound for TB.

Recruitment is under way to enrol nearly 50 US volunteers for the randomised, double-blind Phase One trial, which will evaluate the safety, tolerability, pharmacokinetics and dosing of TBA-354.

The TB Alliance conducted studies in collaboration with the University of Auckland and University of Illinois-Chicago. The TB Alliance approached our researchers because of their expertise in this particular chemistry that we developed in our cancer research work.

Distinguished Professor Bill Denny, director of the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACSRC), and a Principal Investigator of the Maurice Wilkins Centre at the University of Auckland, says our chemistry team has worked on this initiative since 2006.

They made several hundred compounds, from which TBA-354 was selected for clinical development in 2011.

Here’s hoping that TB-354 will be a major breakthrough.

Congratulations to our researchers for their success to date and for being asked to work on yet another drug development project with the TB Alliance.

I’d also like to note that UniServices has managed the collaboration between TB Alliance and ACSRC from the outset.