Awards for Research Excellence

02 May 2013

Outstanding paediatrician, Professor Diana Lennon, was one of three people to receive the Vice-Chancellor’s Commercialisation Medal at the University of Auckland’s Research Excellence Awards this week.

Engineering professors Peter Malin and Mark Taylor were also awarded the medal.

The Vice-Chancellor’s Commercialisation Medals were sponsored by UniServices and introduced by the new CEO of Auckland UniServices, Dr Andy Shenk.

He said the purpose of the Medal was to reward and recognise the impact of sponsored research and commercialisation activities and their contribution beyond academia to either industry or society.

“Rather than mark a single contribution, the medal recognises high impact and excellence over a number of years,” he said.

Diana-Lennon

In presenting the Medal to Professor Lennon, Dr Shenk said the award was made in recognition of her contribution to public health. This was best exemplified by her work in addressing the 1991 Group B Meningococcal epidemic that killed many children in New Zealand and left many others with life-long disabilities.

“Professor Lennon led the way in the communication of the urgent need for public health action and the subsequent design, implementation and roll out of the Group B Meningococcal vaccine programme that has been delivered to one million New Zealand children,” he said.

The annual “Celebrating Research Excellence” awards evening also recognised Early Career Research Excellence with awards to six of the University’s emerging top scientists, introduced by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Distinguished Professor, Dr Jane Harding.

“We congratulate our Early Career Research Excellence award winners for their hard work and contributions to New Zealand’s social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing,” she said. “We look forward to seeing their research and their careers flourish in the future.”

The Faculty was represented by Dr Justin Dean, a lecturer and researcher from the Department of Physiology. Dr Dean’s research examines the question of why children born prematurely still often have neuro-cognitive deficits, despite dramatic improvements in intensive care.

“Last year a paper for which Dr Dean was the lead author made the cover of the prestigious Science Translational Medicine Journal,” said Professor Harding.

The other successful researchers to receive this award were Dr Raj Das (Engineering), Dr Peng Du, (ABI), Dr Alexandra Monteith (Elam), Dr Clare Postlethwaite (Mathematics) and Dr James Russell (Biology).

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There were five awards for Top Doctoral Theses and these included Dr Chris McKinlay who completed his doctoral thesis at the Liggins Institute and Dr Stefan Oehlers who is with the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology in the School of Medical Sciences.

Dr Chris McKinlay’s thesis was entitled “Early School Age Outcomes after Exposure to Repeat Antenatal Glucocorticoids.” His main supervisor at the Liggins Institute was Distinguished Professor Jane Harding with co-supervisor, Professor Wayne Cutfield.

In his thesis Dr McKinlay showed that the children of women treated with repeat doses of glucocorticoids for preterm birth do not have increased physiological risk factors for later cardiovascular and metabolic disease, a concern that had previously limited wider use of this treatment.

These findings would encourage increased use of repeat doses of glucocorticoids for preterm birth, improving outcomes for infants born too early, and challenge previous hypotheses about underlying mechanisms of fetal programming of adult disease.

Dr Stefan Oehlers’ thesis was on ‘Zebrafish models of inflammatory bowel disease’ for the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology. His main supervisor was Professor Philip Crosier with co-supervisors Dr Christopher Hall and Professor Kathryn Crosier.

Dr Oehlers study characterised the innate immune system of the zebrafish model organism and examined the feasibility of utilising zebrafish larvae to investigate the function of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) susceptibility genes. The results formed an important base for future application of the zebrafish model organism IBD research, provided novel insight into IBD aetiology and established new platforms for anti-inflammatory drug discovery.

“The extremely high standard of all nominations received this year is a credit to the many highly-talented graduate students at this University and shows the University’s consistent commitment to encouraging students in innovative and meaningful research,” said Associate Professor Caroline Daley, Dean of Graduate Studies who introduced the awards.