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Issue 397 | 4 March 2016 | Previous Issues

A personal message from the Dean

Our first full week of lectures and the faculty has been filled with the cheerful bustle of new and returning students. Behind the scenes, the new course delivery system Canvas is performing well with more than 34,000 staff and students actively using the system. I am delighted to report that 100 percent of our faculty’s first semester courses are now in Canvas. Thanks to all staff who have worked so hard to achieve this result.

The faculty welcomes three new professors; Professor Ian Bissett, Head of the Department of Surgery, Professor Janie Sheridan in the School of Pharmacy and Professor Peter Gilling in the Department of Medicine and head of the medical programme at Tauranga Hospital. There will be a story on our three new professors in an upcoming newsletter, but I wish to offer the faculty’s warmest congratulations.  

On the philanthropic front, we farewell Emma Dent and welcome our new Faculty Development Manager Mary-Jane Bolland. Mary-Jane’s previous position was as fundraising manager for the Hearing House and she is looking forward to meeting key faculty in her first weeks in the role.

At a meeting of Vice Chancellor, Deans and Directors (VCDD) a proposal was approved from the School of Medical Sciences for a new Masters in Biomedical Science degree, a subject that is currently taught as a specialisation in the Masters of Science.

This will allow SMS to craft new postgraduate offerings that aligned to its research strengths while continuing to work with the School of Biological Sciences to ensure existing core area are represented. With effective marketing, the Masters of Biomedical Science will be attractive to both domestic and international students considering research in medical science with a clear pathway to doctoral research.

On a gloomier note, the faculty’s accrued annual leave budget has ballooned to more than $8 million, more than double that of the next faculty. Annual leave is essential for health and wellbeing and I encourage all staff to ensure they take and record suitable leave each year. 

The University offers a generous five weeks annually and I for one, as a reasonably busy member of faculty, intend to take as much of my allocation as possible; although I accept that things can conspire to disrupt even the best laid plans. However repeated year-on-year absence of any leave requests is a real concern. The responsibility rests squarely with the individual, but requesting and recording leave requires just a few clicks in the HR web site. I implore line managers to address leave request promptly before they get buried in the daily email onslaught.


Best wishes,

John Fraser, PhD, FRSNZ

Dean, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

The University of Auckland


Neuroscientist makes finals in ‘Young New Zealander of the Year’ awards

Image of Distingushed Professor Richard Faull, Dr Malvindar Singh-Bains, Leanne Knox (co-chair for the Huntington’s Disease Youth Organisation of New Zealand, known as HDYO-NZ), Dr. Nasim Mehrabi (Postdoctoral researcher in CBR and member of HDYO-NZ who nominated Malindar for the award), and Diana Faull (Richard’s wife).
From left: Distingushed Professor Richard Faull, Dr Malvindar Singh-Bains, Leanne Knox (co-chair for the Huntington’s Disease Youth Organisation of New Zealand, known as HDYO-NZ), Dr. Nasim Mehrabi (Postdoctoral researcher in CBR and member of HDYO-NZ who nominated Malindar for the award), and Diana Faull (Richard’s wife).
Image of Diana Faull, Malvindar Singh-Bains, Richard Faull, and Malvindars parents Baljit Kaur and Manmohan Singh
From left: Diana Faull, Malvindar Singh-Bains, Richard Faull, and Malvindars parents Baljit Kaur and Manmohan Singh

Warm congratulations to Dr Malvindar Singh-Bains, from our Centre for Brain Research, who was nominated a finalist at the ‘University of Auckland Young New Zealander of the Year’ category of the 2016 ‘Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year’ awards.

On 17 February, Dr Singh-Bains attended the gala awards dinner at Auckland’s Langham Hotel with friends, family and several supporters from the Centre for Brain Research.

Distinguished Professor Richard Faull (Director of our Centre for Brain Research), who also attended the event, said that while she may not have won the title, Dr Singh-Bains won many hearts with her passionate finalist’s speech, delivered in front of a full house.

Distinguished Professor Faull went on to say that Dr Singh-Bains truly epitomises what the Centre for Brain Research stands for, and on the night was flying our University of Auckland banner of excellence.

Dr Singh-Bains works as a post-doctoral research fellow investigating neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases.

This is the second year in succession that she has been nominated for the award and made the final three. The other two finalists for Young New Zealander this year were world number one golfer, Lydia Ko and fashion designer, Sean Kelly.

In September last year, Malvindar was awarded a prestigious four-year fellowship by the Freemasons Foundation to carry out a detailed neuro-anatomical study investigating inflammation and mechanisms of degeneration in the human brain.

For the past ten years, her passion for improving the lives of those with incurable diseases has developed into a passion for research into brain disease and for promoting brain health and awareness of the impact of brain diseases.


Record student participation in Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours) programme

Image of Students in the Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours) programme
Students in the Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours) programme

Our Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours) programme has reached a record with 19 students participating the 2016 class.

This significant increase in student numbers is largely due to programme director Professor Andrew Shelling (our Associate Dean (Research) and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology) and Nicholas FitzHerbert’s (from our Medical Programme Directorate) tireless efforts to raise the profile of the programme amongst our students and staff to the faculty.

Professor Shelling and Nicholas attended and spoke at a number of MBChB orientation events, open nights, and talked individually with those students showing an interest in the programme.

This interest reflects the growing importance students are placing on research as part of their medical training and will see highly valued additions to the respective fields and their future careers.

Introduced in 2010, the BMedSc (Hons) is an intercalated degree programme designed to allow a number of medical students the opportunity to take a year out of the MBChB to complete a research degree.

The programme is undertaken any time after Year 3, usually either between Years 3 and 4, between Years 5 and 6 or after completing Year 6.

Only medical students are eligible to do this degree, and it is a requirement that they have obtained a GPA of at least a B during their third year of the medical programme.

This year research will be conducted in many fields including Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Surgery, Medicine, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Anatomy and Medical Imaging, Te Kupenga Hauora Māori, Ophthalmology and Paediatrics.

After a tremendously successful tenure as programme director, Professor Shelling has stepped down from this role and passing the baton to Dr Ali Mirjalili (from our Department of Anatomy and Medical Imaging).


National Science Challenge tackles childhood obesity, learning and mental health

Image of Science leadership team for A Better Start
Science leadership team for A Better Start

A new National Science Challenge hosted at the University of Auckland aims to reduce obesity and improve learning skills and mental health in children.

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has launched 'A Better Start: E Tipu e Rea' with up to $34.7 million in government funding over ten years.

A Better Start is one of 11 National Science Challenges designed to find solutions to large, complex issues facing New Zealanders.

The Challenge’s Director, Professor Wayne Cutfield of the Liggins Institute, says the research strategy is new for New Zealand.

Professor Cutfield says A Better Start’s research strategy is new for New Zealand because it will target the children most in need as early as possible in life, engage their families and communities, and draw together experts from different disciplines and institutions.

The science leadership team will also take a holistic view of obesity, learning and mental health, which are usually studied in isolation.

Read more


Maurice Paykel Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

Image of Dr Ben Albert
Dr Ben Albert

Congratulations to Dr Ben Albert (the Liggins Institute) who has been awarded the ‘Maurice Paykel Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biomedical Science’.

The fellowship is awarded every two years to support a position within an established or emerging research group within the Faculties of Medical and Health Sciences, Science or Engineering or at the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland.

The fellowship worth NZ$100,000 per annum over two years, is provided by the trustees of the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust with the goal of supporting the career development of New Zealand’s next generation of biomedical scientists.

Dr Albert will conduct to major studies under the fellowship. The first will be to determine the lipid peroxide dose threshold that leads to increased newborn mortality and maternal insulin resistance in rat pregnancy.

The second study will establish in an animal model of insulin resistance in pregnancy, whether fish oil supplementation during both pregnancy and lactation can prevent adverse programming of body composition and metabolism in the adult offspring.

The research project for this Fellowship will be supervised by Professor Wayne Cutfield from Liggins Institute.