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Issue 399 | 1 April 2016 | Previous Issues

A personal message from the Dean

This week we acknowledged the retirement of two senior academics, Professor Emeriti Phillip and Kathryn Crosier. Both Phil and Kathy made very substantial contribution to teaching, research, scholarship and mentorship in careers that spanned over 30 years in the faculty. 

Phil established the discipline of developmental biology at Auckland, using zebrafish to study blood cell development and leukemia. Kathy was an outstanding hematologist, active researcher and major contributor to the teaching of medicine and the reinvigoration of the medical programme. Both were exemplary mentors of graduate students and postdocs. They will be greatly missed but the faculty wishes them the very best in their new life in Nelson.

Fall graduation is nearly upon us with 685 FMHS students graduating across two ceremonies on Wednesday, 11 May. Our 95 pharmacy graduands will be combined with a later Faculty of Science ceremony. I hope as many staff as possible will attend these ceremonies and show support for our graduands. 

Importantly, planning is underway to move to a single November graduation at the end of this year for all those students completing their degrees in 2016. This will eliminate the need for three individual qualifying ceremonies that we currently offer for nursing, pharmacy and medicine. The traditional Oath of Professional Dedication will be collectively performed by graduands following the receipt of degrees.

The QS rankings for 2015/16 have been published and I am delighted to announce that the University of Auckland ranked 82nd and the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences ranked 70th in the world, in the discipline of Life Sciences and Humanities. My warmest congratulations to Judy Kilpatrick as the School of Nursing which ranked an incredible 32nd in the world, an outstanding achievement after only 15 years in existence.

Best wishes,

John Fraser, PhD, FRSNZ

Dean, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

The University of Auckland


Obituary- Dr David Bremner

Image of Dr David Bremner
Dr David Bremner

It is with sadness that we note the recent passing of Dr David Bremner, the first academic appointment in microbiology within the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

David graduated MBChB from the University of Otago in 1957, and subsequently trained in pathology in Melbourne between 1960 and 1969. During that time he studied at the University of Melbourne and Monash University, with appointments to the Royal Children's Hospital, the Royal Melbourne and Women's Hospital, and the Fairfield Institute of Infectious Diseases.

He returned to Auckland in 1970 to the position of Clinical Microbiologist and Acting Pathologist in Charge at Middlemore Hospital, and in 1971 was appointed to the new position of Senior Lecturer in Microbiology in the Academic Department of Pathology, University of Auckland, a position in which he stayed until until his retirement in 1997. 

David taught many generations of medical students, who affectionately gave him the nickname of  "Bremnercoccus". His research interests included the mechanisms of antibacterial resistance and the utility of antimicrobials in the treatment of a range  of infections. David's hobbies included wood turning and golf.

One of his children, Catherine, has followed in his footsteps and is a paediatrician in Whangarei. Our condolences go out to his family and friends.


Auckland and nursing lead medical subject rankings

Uni of Auckland9

The University of Auckland was the best performing New Zealand University in the latest QS subject rankings for medical subjects this year.

Nursing was top of our medical subjects – ranked 32nd in the world.

The University was top New Zealand University in the Life Sciences and Medicine category with top medical subject rankings in Nursing, Medicine, Pharmacy and Pharmacology and Psychology.

This is a truly outstanding result for the entire faculty and a testament to the continued commitment to the highest quality of teaching and research.

Professor Judy Kilpatrick, Head of our School of Nursing, said they are delighted with this result, as they are a relatively new discipline within the Faculty, and she is pleased with the way they have developed within the University.

In the latest subject rankings issued today, the University of Auckland was ranked first in New Zealand in 35 of the 40 subjects. No other New Zealand universities were ranked at 50 or above in these subjects.

Top of the individual QS subject rankings for Auckland was Archaeology - ranked 20th in the world - the first time archaeology was included in the QS rankings.

Auckland was also 23rd in Education, 26th in Development Studies, 29th in Psychology, 31st in English Language and Literature, 32nd in Law and in Nursing, and 34th in Accounting & Finance.

Now in its fifth year, the annual QS World University Rankings by Subject is a comprehensive guide to a range of popular subject areas. The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s best-performing university, featuring in the top 50 in 15 subjects.

QS ranks universities worldwide based on academic reputation, employer reputation and research citations, with weightings tailored to each subject.


Open Day at top cancer research centre

ACSRC Open Day graphic

The lab doors at Auckland’s world-renowned cancer research centre will be opened to supporters and the public on Saturday 9 April for an inspiring and interactive Open Day.

Researchers at our Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACSRC), based at here at the University of Auckland, have punched above their weight for decades. Despite being a small research centre, they have made many globally significant discoveries.

ACSRC scientists have launched 12 drugs into clinical trials and have more on the way and are global leaders in three areas of cancer research – pro-drugs activated by hypoxia (low-oxygen) in tumours, immune modulation, and molecular targeting.

For its 60th Anniversary celebrations, the Centre is giving the public the opportunity to see what this world-class research lab is doing to help conquer cancer.

The Open Day will have engaging activities from 9.30am to 3pm that include: TED-style talks and the chance to ask questions (starts at 10am); Tours of the ACSRC (need to wear closed shoes and book on the day); and an InfoHub that showcases the ACSRC’s amazing six-decade history.

The TED-style short talks will give a glimpse into the world of the top researchers and what they are doing to battle cancer. There will be five minutes after each talk for the public to ask questions.

More than a dozen talks will be offered, including:

  • Unleashing the Immune System to Defeat Cancer
  • Powerful Molecules: Chemical Warfare to Chemotherapy
  • Past, Present and Future: Grand Challenges Facing the Next Generation of Cancer Researchers.  

Read more about what is happening on the day.


Māori need culturally safe cancer research

Image of Research Fellow, Dr Kimiora Henare (ACSRC)
Research Fellow, Dr Kimiora Henare (ACSRC)

Genomic sequencing looks set to transform healthcare and it is essential that Māori do not miss out on the benefits of these advances, according to cancer researcher, Dr Kimiora Henare.

Historic mishandling of samples and data, particularly from indigenous populations both in New Zealand and overseas, has contributed to mistrust between Māori and the biomedical community.

Some research groups are making a concerted effort to understand and incorporate key Māori values into their research, to ensure that their research is culturally safe and inclusive.

Dr Henare is looking at ways to build Māori research capability and to develop tikanga for cancer research, to ensure that it is not only scientifically robust, but is also culturally safe for Māori.

Once these things are in place, he expects more Māori will want to participate.

Dr Henare says if personalised medicine is the future for cancer therapy and Māori participation doesn’t increase in terms of getting their genomes sequenced for that treatment, the risk is many are going to miss out on access to cancer care and the discrepancies in health outcomes could get bigger. This extends to the need for more Māori researchers driving this type of work as well.

Dr Henare is a cancer research scientist at our Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre that is based at the University of Auckland. He comes from a background in biomedical science and has done all his postgraduate study at the University and Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre.

His affiliations are to Te Aupouri and Te Rarawa, with connections to Whangape, just north of the Hokianga Harbour and southwest of Kaitaia area on Northland’s west coast.

Read more


‘Stealth technology’ targets cancer

Image of Dr Adam Patterson and Dr Jeff Smaill
From left: Dr Adam Patterson and Dr Jeff Smaill

"It's like the difference between using a laser-guided missile and carpet bombing. The missile eliminates the target with precision. Carpet bombing kills everything”.

That's senior researchers at the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACSRC), explaining the difference between chemotherapy and their strategy to attack and destroy lung cancer, head and neck cancer and skin cancer.

The cutting-edge weaponry is Tarloxotinib (TH-4000), their new generation prodrug undergoing phase II trials at 11 clinical sites in the United States and Australia.

ACSRC researchers Dr Adam Patterson and Dr Jeff Smaill have created a unique molecule that can be targeted (think missile) at specific tumours. The "payload" (TH-4000) won't detonate until it's inside a "hypoxic" tumour (those without oxygen in their mass), a form of medical 'stealth technology'.

If it sounds complicated, it is. Just getting to this point has required two decades of world-leading research at ACSRC, with the last ten years led by Dr Patterson and Dr Smaill.

There was a major step forward last year when UniServices licenced Tarloxotinib to innovative US company Threshold Pharmaceuticals, now funding the phase II testing.

While it's not possible to predict the costs of bringing TH-4000 to market, it commonly takes years and, typically, big pharma estimates up to US$1 billion to do so.

Read more



Parking at Auckland Hospital

Image of Auckland City Hospital
Auckland City Hospital

The Auckland City Hospital site has major parking shortages.

ADHB is concerned that people who do not have business on that site are using their car parks.

This is particularly relevant to students, staff, or visitors to FMHS, and they have asked that their car parking spaces should not be used for people coming on to our Grafton campus.

They are planning to institute policing of this, so can you please ensure that you park within our campus or in public spaces, and encourage your visitors to do the same.


Public Lecture by Professor Ian Tannock

Image of Professor Ian Tannock
Professor Ian Tannock

World-renowned cancer researcher Professor Ian Tannock will be giving a free public lecture on Thursday 14 April, in the AMRF Lecture Theatre at our Grafton Campus.

Professor Tannock is Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Medical Biophysics at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and University of Toronto.  

The Cancer Society Auckland Northland is hosting Professor Tannock, who will be talking about the future of personalised cancer care. 

Register here