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Issue 389 | 18 September 2015 | Previous Issues

A personal message from the Dean

It has been an eventful fortnight with the well-publicised announcement of the largest ever single donation in the history of the faculty from Mr Langren Li and his family. This extraordinarily generous donation will be held as an endowment by the School of Medicine Foundation with annual interest supporting the Li Family Cancer Research Fund.

While still to be decided, the Advisory Board that will include representatives of the university and family is likely to support contestable bids for postdoctoral scholarships, research fellowships and research projects. Mr Li was very clear when he first approached us, that he was eager to make a donation to the “best university in the country which he knew was strong in cancer”. My special thanks go to Emma Dent who worked very closely with the family to bring this donation to a swift and positive conclusion.

My warmest congratulations to members of faculty who were successful in the recent MBIE funding round. Dr Janet Fanslow, from the School of Population Health was successful in the Health and Society Research Fund with a $2.8 million research award for “Developing an evidence based platform for family violence prevention”.

Dr Jason Turuwhenua in the School of Optometry was successful in the Smart Ideas category for research into “A device for assessment of visual function for use with young children” worth $1 million funding.

As a strong research faculty, we have not been particularly successful with prior applications to MBIE, so it is very heartening to see these successes. 

Our professional staff contribute across a wide range of disciplines and activities and are essential to the faculty operating as a high functioning, world class teaching and research institution. Each year we celebrate the achievements of our star performers through the Professional Staff Awards, where we gather to acknowledge remarkable efforts and contributions.

This year the awards ceremony will be held on 25 November and we are now calling for nominations from faculty. The process is simple and straightforward and I encourage staff to offer nominations here.   

Best wishes,
John Fraser, PhD, FRSNZ
Dean, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences
The University of Auckland


$10 million gift for cancer research in Auckland

Image of The Li Family, from left, Zeyin Li, Chloe Li, Jenny Han and Liangren Li.
The Li Family, from left, Zeyin Li, Chloe Li, Jenny Han and Liangren Li.

Thank you to Mr Liangren Li, who generously announced that he will make a $10 million donation to cancer research in Auckland. Mr Li has worked hard to build up a successful business since he arrived in New Zealand from China with his family 20 years ago.

Mr Li’s generous donation, the single largest in our 50-year history, provides a very substantial boost to our world-class cancer research programme and will for example provide much needed long-term support for our brilliant young research fellows who are the engine room of research.

By establishing a trust with the University, Mr Li will ensure that his name will live on in cancer research in New Zealand for many years to come and may just be responsible for the future breakthroughs from continued research.

This is a wonderful legacy and a tribute to his generosity.

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First academic post in neurosurgery for Auckland

Image of The Freemason’s Senior Lecturer in Neurosurgery, Patrick Schweder, (centre) with Freemasons (from left) Graham Wrigley, Mark Winger, Terry McConnell and David Mace
The Freemason’s Senior Lecturer in Neurosurgery, Patrick Schweder, (centre) with Freemasons (from left) Graham Wrigley, Mark Winger, Terry McConnell and David Mace

Congratulations to Dr Patrick Schweder, who is Auckland’s first academic appointment in neurosurgery.

This was a result of a campaign launched by the University of Auckland in partnership with the Neurological Foundation for an Academic Appointment in Neurosurgery.

As a top class neurosurgeon with expertise in research, Dr Schweder can bridge and promote novel research collaborations between brain researchers in the Centre for Brain Research and neurosurgeons of Auckland and Starship Hospitals.

Dr Schweder is a Senior Lecturer of Neurosurgery who began his training at Auckland City Hospital. He now holds a joint appointment between the University and the Auckland District Health Board.

We look forward to Patrick’s public lecture later this year, where he will present his vision for neurosurgery research at a CBR seminar.

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Inspiration leads to medical research careers

For three talented young doctors, their training at our South Auckland Clinical School at Middlemore Hospital has inspired advanced study in medical research.

Renus Stowers, Daniel Lemanu and Mataroria Lyndon are all involved in doctoral study to inform their clinical practice, due largely to the leadership of Assistant Dean of the South Auckland Clinical School, Professor Andrew Hill.

Drs Stowers, Lemanu and Lyndon were all supported during their early medical training by the Maori and Pacific Admission Scheme (MAPAS) team. And all agree that Professor Andrew Hill has been the driving force behind their academic careers.

Both Dr Lyndon and Dr Stowers were also this year awarded the 'Rose Hellaby Scholarship' award of $30,000 to help fund their future studies.

I commend Professor Hill’s success in mentoring young doctors to develop and broaden their careers.

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Image of Dr Mataroria Lyndon (left) with Dr Renus Stowers
Dr Mataroria Lyndon (left) with Dr Renus Stowers
Image of Dr Daniel Lemanu
Dr Daniel Lemanu

New vision tests help improve diagnosis

Image of Dr Jason Turuwhenua
Dr Jason Turuwhenua

Research to develop new vision tests for children involving eye movement may revolutionise diagnosis of vision problems in youngsters.

Dr Jason Turuwhenua from our School of Optometry and Vision Science and the Auckland Bioengineering Institute will lead a project team that was last week awarded almost a million dollars in funding from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s latest science funding round.

Dr Turuwhenua’s research grant will fund over two years of to develop new technology to easily assess visual function in children as young as two years old.

This work will include investigation of a highly novel and promising approach to measurement of eye motion which uses an entirely new approach to eye motion analysis

Dr Turuwhenua says that the earlier in life a vision problem can be detected, the better the treatment outcomes for the child in terms of vision, educational performance, neurological development, motor function and quality of life.

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Liggins Institute research the star of a two-part TV feature

Breaking news: TV3’s new 7pm current affairs show ‘Story’ has profiled our Liggins Institute in a two-part feature.

In Part 1, the show visited the Liggins Institute Farm to find out what sheep have to teach us about the health links between mothers and their babies, and how to reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.  

For Part 2, ‘Story’ got rare camera access to Auckland Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to look at how studies with lambs are helping premature babies to survive and thrive.

The stories included interviews with new Liggins Institute Director Professor Frank Bloomfield, Dr Mark Oliver and Dr Anne Jaquiery

Image of  Professor Frank Bloomfield
Professor Frank Bloomfield
Image of Dr Mark Oliver
Dr Mark Oliver
Image of  Dr Anne Jaquiery.
Dr Anne Jaquiery

Still ranked top in NZ despite ranking method change

The ClockTower

The University of Auckland continues to rank internationally as New Zealand’s leading university. QS World University Rankings published the latest rankings this week.

In the 2015 QS World University Rankings our university maintained its position as New Zealand’s leading university, and rose in the rankings from 92 last year to 82 equal this year.

The QS rankings no longer base the result on ‘citations per faculty member’. Instead the new methodology balances the distribution of citations across five broad faculty areas.

These are Life Sciences and Medicine, Natural Sciences, Engineering and Technology, Social Sciences, and Arts and Humanities. Adjustments to the QS rankings also take account of material that the University publishes in languages other than English.

This means, according to QS, that “the citation score for Institutions with an emphasis on Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities and Engineering & Technology will be likely to rise, and the advantage hitherto afforded to those with a disproportionate reliance on a strong medical school will be neutralised.”

This change in the way QS calculates University rankings with reduced weighting given to citations in medicine and the life sciences, brings it closer to other ranking systems in the treatment of citations.

Despite this, the University of Auckland still ranks well above other New Zealand Universities. For example, the Otago University ranking has dropped from 159 in 2014 to 173 this year.

The 2015 rankings of the other New Zealand universities (with 2014 rankings in brackets) are; Otago, 173 (159), Canterbury, 211 (242), Victoria, 229 (275), Massey, 337 (346), Waikato, 338 (401-410), Lincoln, 373 (411-420), AUT, 481-490 (501-550).