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Issue 403 | 27 May 2016 | Previous Issues

A personal message from the Dean

The Dean is overseas this week, visiting the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Last week, we both attended the Wellington announcement of the increase in HRC funding, which is a very important endorsement of the research work that our Faculty carries out.

This step up in investment is a direct consequence of the consistent and forceful feedback that the government received as part of its review of the HRC last year.

This does indicates that our input into such reviews can significantly impact on policy direction. The review of the HRC itself is now being followed by a further invitation for submissions around the New Zealand Health Research Strategy.

For the same reasons, I think it is important that we make strong representations individually, as research groups, and as a Faculty and University to this process.

Our endorsement of investigator-initiated, peer-reviewed research, which is the bread and butter of international health science, needs to be heard strongly in Wellington, if that is the direction we wish the field to follow in the coming decade.

Therefore, I would invite your considered inputs into that process, just as you provided them for the Refresh last year.

Best wishes,

Distinguished Professor Ian Reid

Deputy Dean, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

The University of Auckland


Li Family cancer research function

From left: Dean, Professor John Fraser, Mr Liangren Li, Chloe Li and Jenny Han
From left: Dean, Professor John Fraser, Mr Liangren Li, Chloe Li and Jenny Han
Image of From left: Zeiyn Li, MR Liangren Li, Karla Santos Souza, Chloe Li, Jenny Han, Dr Michelle Wison, Dr Yongchuan Gu and Professor John Fraser (Dean)
From left: Zeyin Li, Mr Liangren Li, Karla Santos Souza, Chloe Li, Jenny Han, Dr Michelle Wison, Dr Yongchuan Gu and Professor John Fraser (Dean)

I was delighted to host a function on Monday May 16 to celebrate the first round of recipients for the Li Family Fund scholarships and projects. Mr Liangren Li, his wife Jenny Han, and children Zeyin and Chloe met three of the awardees at the event, along with key faculty staff involved with cancer research.

Last year, Mr Li generously decided to donate $10 million to our faculty, the single biggest gift ever received, and a donation for which we are extremely grateful. He made the decision after being unexpectedly diagnosed with lung cancer.

At the function Mr Li said growing up in China he had wanted to become a doctor but, with his usual modesty, said he didn’t have the ability, then he had wanted to become a scientist but hadn’t for the same reason. Working with the University of Auckland was a wonderful experience as he said the clinicians and researchers whom the family was supporting “realise my dreams”.

The four recipients are Dr Michelle Wilson, who has received for the Li Family Cancer Research Project Grant. Michelle is a medical oncologist at Auckland City Hospital and a Senior Research Fellow with the Cancer Trials New Zealand team with an interest in gynaecological malignancies. Michelle is focusing on early phase translational studies and clinical trials endpoints; in particular, their utility and evolution in the era of precision oncology.

Dr Yongchuan Gu is the Li Family Cancer Research Postdoctoral Fellowship and has been at the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACSRC) since 2004. Since completing his PhD in 2010, Yongchuan has led the development of targeted proteomics methodology. He sees this as a key enabling technology for predictive biomarker quantitation in the context of cancer drug development.

The two PhD recipients are Karla Santos Souza and Rossella Capochiani de ludicibus.

Karla, a biologist who recently came to New Zealand from Brazil, has a strong interest in signalling pathways and cancer. Her PhD will focus on Signal Transduction Pathways and Targeted Therapies in Melanoma.

Rossella did not attend the Li Family function as she is in Italy but coming to New Zealand shortly. In Auckland she will study the mechanism of action of novel immune modulatory compounds developed at the ACSRC. These novel agents block the activity of key enzymes, IDO1 and TDO that a broad range of cancers use to suppress the patients’ immune system. Rossella will investigate whether blocking one of these enzymes, or blocking both enzymes together, is a more effective approach for the treatment of experimental glioma, lung and pancreatic cancers.


Major funding boost for health research

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Medical research in New Zealand had a major boost last week with an extra $97 million funding over four years committed to the Health Research Council (HRC).

The Government announced that the annual amount available for health research through the HRC will increase by 56 per cent from $77m in 2015/16 to $120m in 2019/20.

This is a very significant increase for health research funding and signals that the Government is fully committed to the outcomes of the recent HRC refresh review.

It is the largest single increase in health research funding in living memory-and it will increase funds available to support health research by 50 percent within four years.

The extra funding makes a substantial investment to bring New Zealand health research funding into line with other nations. It is a step change for the health research community and we are all delighted.

Read more


New scholarships to support more students

Students sitting outside FMHS

Hundreds of new undergraduate scholarships will be provided by the University of Auckland to help entry-level students transition into university life.

The University of Auckland has opened applications for four brand-new scholarship types which will be awarded to more than 400 students starting undergraduate studies in 2017 including;

  • University of Auckland Top Achiever Scholarships – value $20,000
  • University of Auckland Māori Academic Excellence Scholarships – value $20,000
  • University of Auckland Pacific Academic Excellence Scholarships – value $20,000
  • University of Auckland Academic Potential Scholarships – value up to $20,000

Read more


An inspiring evening of neurosurgery and research

Image of From left: Mr Patrick Schweder, Distinguished Professor Richard Faull, Lady Clare McKinnon, Mr Edward Mee and Mr Arnold Bok
From left: Mr Patrick Schweder, Distinguished Professor Richard Faull, Lady Clare McKinnon, Dr Edward Mee and Mr Arnold Bok
Image of From left:Dame Rosie Horton, Distinguished Professor Richard Faull and Andy McDowell
From left: Dame Rosie Horton, Andy McDowell and Distinguished Professor Richard Faull

Earlier this month, our Centre for Brain Research (CBR), in collaboration with the Neurological Foundation and the Freemasons, hosted “A Voyage into the Brain: Showcasing the Latest Advances in Neurosurgery and Research” at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The event was a public celebration of the collaboration between the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland and Auckland District Health Board’s Neurosurgical team.

This vital partnership enables neuroscientists and clinicians to work together to increase knowledge of the human brain and develop new therapies that could improve the quality of life for New Zealanders.

A major step in the development of this collaboration between the CBR and the ADHB was initiated last year with the appointment of neurosurgeon Dr Patrick Schweder as the first ‘Freemasons Senior Lecturer in Neurosurgery’.

“A Voyage into the Brain…” was hosted by Distinguished Professor Richard Faull, Director of the CBR, and featured updates from neurosurgeons in collaboration with the Centre, a Q & A session and the personal journey of Andy McDowell; a young Aucklander who has benefited from the revolutionary procedure of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) for Parkinson’s disease.

The event feedback was unanimously positive, as most deemed it a compelling display of discovery, talent, passion, camaraderie and hope.

The evening was attended by our Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, ADHB figureheads and neurosurgeons, Lady Claire McKinnon, Dame Rosie Horton, Sir Graeme Douglas and Sir John Graham among others.

The CBR acknowledges the support of the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand and the Freemasons.