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Issue 400 | 15 April 2016 | Previous Issues

A personal message from the Dean


Over the past two weeks we celebrated two public events - the 60th birthday of the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre highlighted by a very successful open day on Saturday and a superb public lecture on Thursday night by guest speaker from the University of Toronto Emeritus Professor Ian Tannock.

We also celebrated the public opening of the Dementia Prevention Research Clinic, a core part of the BRNZ Centre of Research Excellence’s translation of its research into clinical practice. It was a reminder at both occasions of how important it is to effectively communicate to the public how our research translates into improving people’s lives. This was beautifully achieved at both events.

We also hosted a successful visit of senior academics from the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine who were here with serious intentions to partner in the area of pharmaceutical sciences. Thank you to all those staff, particularly the School of Pharmacy who met and presented our pharmaceutical research expertise. Karen Dorrian and I will be reciprocating with a visit to Shanghai in May as guests of their spring graduation ceremony.

At VCDD this week, two key findings from the Research Support Review were discussed and solutions proposed. The first was to improve the process for recruitment of staff on research projects. The review has highlighted that there is confusion in this area, particularly with new staff who are unclear about where to go for support and training in recruitment, leading to long delays in projects getting underway and problems with fixed-term contract renewals. 

The second area was a need to improve the advice and support provided for planning and budgeting for the allocation of research resources. This is a problem compounded by a range of factors, but invariably leads to unexpected under or overspends. Simple things such as not accounting for salary increments and annual leave costs can lead to big surprises at the end of a fixed term contract.

Also discussed and supported at VCDD was a major project to improve the University’s web structure. The intention will be to move from the audience-based structure that we currently employ to a topic-based structure. The will mean that all core information for both internal and external users that is currently replicated (sometimes inaccurately) by faculties or division will be held under a single web domain www.auckland.ac.nz that is referenced by faculties and division web sites. This should reduce the massive content of our web and improve navigation and functionality particularly with search ability.  

Best wishes,

John Fraser, PhD, FRSNZ

Dean, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

The University of Auckland

 

60th anniversary celebration a huge success


16041OpenDay-474
ASCRC Open Day 2
ASCRC Open Day 2
ASCRC open day 1

Our Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre held their 60th anniversary Open Day on Saturday 9 April where some of our best and brightest were able to spend time in the spotlight.

With about 600 people the event was extremely well attended by a range of people – from those personally affected by cancer, to staff from our faculty and wider University, to bright young people thinking about a career in research.

The quality of the engagement was exceptional, sincere, and at times emotional for visitors, collaborators and researchers.

It’s often said that the University is internationally recognised for its research and there is no brighter jewel in our university’s research crown than the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre.

The centre is truly world famous for its contribution to new drugs that treat cancer. It has been responsible for improving the outcomes of many thousands of cancer patients worldwide.

Cancer research at the University of Auckland simply would not be possible if it were not for the long-standing partnership we have enjoyed with the Cancer Society Auckland Northland. Without their ongoing support there would simply be no world-famous Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre.

I also want to acknowledge the centre’s formidable leadership; founder Professor Bruce Cain, whose vision, scientific brilliance and tenacity led to the formation of the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre’s interest in drug development; followed by Distinguished Professor Bill Denny, who has so ably led the centre for as long as I have been in this faculty.

I give my warmest congratulations to our staff, scientists and students of the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre on reaching the milestone of 60 years young.

Now it is time to ponder what the next 60 years will bring in the understanding and treatment of cancer.

 

Li family grants boost cancer biomarker research


Image of Dr Michelle Wilson
Dr Michelle Wilson
Image of Dr Yongchuan Gu
Dr Yongchuan Gu

The first grants from the Li family’s $10 million cancer research gift to the University of Auckland awarded this month will support research into cancer biomarkers.

In September last year, Auckland entrepreneur, Mr Liangren Li and his family, announced a record $10 million endowment fund to provide annual interest for investing in cancer research.

Mr Li was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2015, despite never smoking, living a healthy lifestyle, and having none of the risk factors for lung cancer.

The major grant is the 2016 Li Family Cancer Research Project Grant that was made to Dr Michelle Wilson and her team for a project called ‘PROSPER – Profiling of Oncology Patients as part of Clinical care and Research’.

The $480,000 project will run over three years starting in September 2016 and focusses on biomarkers for gynaecological cancers. It plans to expand to include other tumour types over this period.

Read more

The Li Family fund will also support the 2016 Li Family Cancer Research Postdoctoral Fellowship, awarded to Dr Yongchuan Gu for the research into ‘Targeted proteomics for profiling of predictive biomarkers in cancer therapy’.

Dr Gu is a researcher at our Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACSRC) and the grant is for $300,000 over three years, starting in January 2017.

Read more

 

New Zealand’s first Dementia Prevention Research Clinic opens


Image of From left: Associate Professor Lynette Tippett (National Director of the DPRC network), Dr Gary Cheung (Psychiatrist), Dr Erin Cawston (DPRC Tissue Bank Research Fellow), Dr Kiri Brickell (Neurologist), Dr Christina Ilse (Neuropsychologist), Dr Phil Wood (Auckland DPRC Co-Director) and Karen Smith (Clinical Research Nurse)
From left: Associate Professor Lynette Tippett (National Director of the DPRC network), Dr Gary Cheung (Psychiatrist), Dr Erin Cawston (DPRC Tissue Bank Research Fellow), Dr Kiri Brickell (Neurologist), Dr Christina Ilse (Neuropsychologist), Dr Phil Wood (Auckland DPRC Co-Director) and Karen Smith (Clinical Research Nurse)

On Friday 8 April New Zealand’s first Dementia Prevention Research Clinic opened at the University of Auckland.

The clinic is the first of a national network of Dementia Prevention Research Clinics established by Brain Research New Zealand (BRNZ).

BRNZ is a Government funded Centre of Research Excellence undertaking ground breaking scientific studies on the ageing brain and ageing-related brain disorders.

At the launch was the Minister for Science and Innovation, the Hon Steven Joyce BRNZ, Co-Directors Distinguished Professor Richard Faull and Professor Wickliffe Abraham (University of Otago), Professor Richard Blakie (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research at the University of Otago) and Associate Professor Lynette Tippett, Director of the Dementia Prevention Research Clinic.

Minister Steven Joyce formally opened the clinic. Further Dementia Prevention Research Clinics are scheduled to open in Christchurch and Dunedin later this year.

The Dementia Prevention Research Clinics will be at the frontline of collaborative research studies involving individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MPI) and those with very early Alzheimer’s disease.

The Dementia Prevention Research Clinics are about combining world class scientific research with the active involvement of members of the community together with a team of health professionals providing hope for the future.

 

New Research Fellowship in Epidemiology


Image of From left to right: Professor Felicity Goodyear-Smith, Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, Professor Ngaire Kerse, Mr Rawiri Wharemate, Anne Mclean, Dr Anna Howe (KPS Fellow) and Associate Professor Nigel Wilson (KPS Trustee)
From left: Professor Felicity Goodyear-Smith, Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, Professor Ngaire Kerse, Mr Rawiri Wharemate, Anne Mclean, Dr Anna Howe (KPS Fellow) and Associate Professor Nigel Wilson (KPS Trustee)

Warm congratulations to Dr Anna Howe who has been appointed the first ‘Karitane Product Society (KPS) Research Fellowship in Epidemiology’.

The primary objective of this Fellowship is to foster and undertake research focused on the effectiveness and safety of the NZ National Immunisation Programme to improve child health outcomes.

This position will assist both local policy makers in supporting ongoing decisions around the scheduling of the immunisation programme, the New Zealand public in ensuring ongoing confidence in the delivery of the programme, and contribute to international knowledge.  

The Karitane Product Society (KPS) which has generously funded the Fellowship, supports research and development in the early childhood area and have supported Plunket activities for many years.

The Fellowship is for ten years with the additional support of the University, UniServices and Conectus.

The Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) identified the need for this position, which undertakes research activities and national advisory functions.

Initial research priorities for the Fellow are to:

  • Study key issues pertinent to the effectiveness of the NZ childhood National Immunisation Schedule Vaccines
  • Study key issues pertinent to the safety of the vaccines used on the Immunisation Schedule
  • Develop international collaborations through data sharing.
  • Study the current services and uptake of services for NZ children by focusing on pregnancy and infancy

Dr Howe has a PhD in nutritional epidemiology, specifically food choice, dietary patterns, and body composition among children and adolescents.

She is well qualified in biostatistics and comes to us from the role of Statistical Analyst, Statistics New Zealand. Her qualifications in epidemiology, in child and adolescent health, and her ability to work with large datasets makes her an excellent fit for the Fellowship.

The appointment is within the Department of General Practice & Primary Health Care, but Anna will be located with the Uniservices Conectus team.

 

Top recognition for PhD students


Image of From left: Professor Paul Donaldson, Dr Ankita Umapathy and Dr Julie Lim
From left: Professor Paul Donaldson, Dr Ankita Umapathy and Dr Julie Lim
Image of Dr Sarah Bristow
Dr Sarah Bristow

Congratulations to Dr Ankita Umapathy and Dr Sarah Bristow for each winning one of just five Vice Chancellor’s Prizes for the Best Doctoral Thesis awarded by the University in 2015.

Dr Umapathy, from our School of Optometry and Vision Science, won her award for her thesis: ‘Glutathione metabolism and transport pathways in the anterior rat eye: Is the lens a reservoir of glutathione?’.

Ankita’s supervisor main supervisor was Dr Julie Lim and she was co-supervised by Professor Paul Donaldson.

Dr Bristow, from our School of Medicine won her award for her thesis: ‘Effects of Calcium on Indices of Bone and Cardiovascular Health, and on Cancer’.

Sarah’s main supervisor was Professor Ian Reid and she was co-supervised by Associate Professor Mark Bolland.

Dr Umapathy and Dr Bristow’s theses were selected from 375 eligible theses. To be even nominated in this elite group is a huge achievement in itself.

Criteria for nomination include the demonstrable significance of each thesis in its field, the originality and excellence of the research, exceptional academic and intellectual achievement as well as timely completion.

 

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The Royal Australasian College of Physicians announces new President-Elect


Image of Associate Professor Mark Lane
Associate Professor Mark Lane

Congratulations to Associate Professor Mark Lane, who earlier this month was named as President Elect of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Associate Professor Lane, a gastroenterologist at Auckland City Hospital and honorary academic in our School of Medicine, spent 17 years as Head of the Gastroenterology Department at Auckland City Hospital.

Associate Professor Lane was also involved in clinical leadership at regional and national levels. He is also a patron of the Coeliac Society of NZ and Crohn’s and Colitis NZ.

Associate Professor Lane will begin his two year term as RACP President-Elect at the conclusion of the Annual General Meeting on 18 May.  He will then serve as RACP President for two years from 2018.