HealtheX 2013 the biggest and best yet

20 September 2013

Research into the detailed structures of brain synapses using new super-resolution imaging techniques has seen PhD candidate Lucy Goodman take out the top prize, the AMRF Emerging Researcher Award, at the recent HealtheX student research conference staged at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

All neurodegenerative and developmental disorders directly or indirectly affect synapses, so to understand in turn how these diseases affect overall brain function, it is imperative that researchers have the fullest knowledge of synapse ultrastructure.  New imaging techniques using functional super-resolution microscopy to capture light emissions over time are used to overcome the limitations of traditional optical microscopy and reveal synaptic architecture in significantly greater detail. Lucy provided an exceptional explanation of this complicated technology, data and its potential at her HealtheX presentation and her data will inform future studies of how this is different in diseased states.

“This work is high impact and of international quality,” says Dr Johanna Montgomery who is Lucy’s main supervisor in her research project.   “The award not only reflects Lucy’s standing as a top PhD student at our University, but also will enable her to share her data to her field at an international conference.”

In presenting the main HealtheX prize, Auckland Medical Research Foundation (AMRF) president Jeff Todd told the faculty audience this was the sixth year that the AMRF had supported HealtheX and the organisation was delighted to see the event continue to grow in size and stature. Mr Todd told the gathering that the AMRF currently provides in excess of $3 million/annum in contestable grant and fellowship funding, with significant slices of this sum supporting researchers at the University of Auckland.

Lucy Goodman’s presentation was judged the best of the 110 individual oral or poster presentations made at the seventh staging of the FMHS student-led health conference. The day-long event has become a showcase of virtually every aspect of research activity being conducted at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences and HealtheX has earned a firm place on the annual faculty and University calendar.

In addition to the top prize presented by the Auckland Medical Research Foundation, Lucy also emerged top in the Doctoral Oral Presentation category, ahead of Susann Beier and Michelle Munro. Susann Beier’s research looked at the blood flow changes caused by different stent designs, providing insights into potential clinical outcomes for the 40% of arterial stent recipients who develop a re-narrowing of the artery. This research was supervised by Dr Brett Cowan.  Michelle Munro’s research looked at the influence of the protein JPH2 on transverse tubules which are essential for the cardiomyocyte excitation-contraction coupling processes.  Michelle is supervised in this international research project by Associate Professor Christian Soeller.

The Non-Doctoral Oral Presentation category at HealtheX was won by 4 th year medical student Nathanael Lucas who reported on his research option which examined the awareness of a student group of age-related fertility decline.  Under the supervision of Associate Professor Andrew Shelling, Nathanael found that the university students were guilty, as most people are, of overestimating female fertility and the age at which fertility decline may start.

Runners up in the HealtheX Non-Doctoral Oral Presentation category were Kate Dowson and Danielle Lee. Kate’s presentation, supervised by Dr Tim Tenbensal in the School of Population Health, looked at the effect that subsidised after-hours care for children under 6 may have or is having on GP practices. Danielle Lee’s research, supervised by Professor Janusz Lipski, looked at the effects of the parkinsonian toxin MPTP on nigral dopaminergic neurons in the brain.

Sarbjot Kaur, supervised by Dr Marie Ward in the Department of Physiology, was adjudged to have presented the best poster at HealtheX 2013. Sarbjot’s poster looked at the contribution of the extracellular matrix in the way intracellular Ca 2+ transients are handled within cardiac myocytes.  The two runners up in the Poster Presentation category were also from the Department of Physiology, the honours going to Tania Fowke,supervised by Dr Justin Dean with a poster describing hyaluronan and perineuronal nets in neuronal development, and Ching-Yu (Shelly) Lin, supervised by Dr Srdjan Vlajkovic, with her poster on the role of P2 receptor signalling in hair cell survival under stress’.

HealtheX is unique in that it is student-organised and student-run, and in his address at the prize giving the FMHS Associate Dean (Research) AP Andrew Shelling praised the student committee led jointly by PhD candidates Ankita Umapathy and Jennifer Song. The best entries from this year’s HealtheX will now be presented at the University-wide Exposure showcase event later this month.