Tag Archives: University of Otago Christchurch

A vision of kiwi kidneys

Sick of writing boring text reports.  Take a leaf out of Christchurch nephrologist Dr Suetonia Palmer’s (@SuetoniaPalmer) book and make a visual abstract report.  Here are two she has created recently based on data collected about organ donation and end stage renal failure by ANZDATA (@ANZDATARegistry). Enjoy.

Suetonia C-18RfJXUAApRcU

Suetonia C-16lBZXsAERoeM

ps. The featured image is of the Kidney Brothers.  Check out the great educational resources at The OrganWiseGuys.

What’s going on at the UOC?

Q. What has Mars, Epidemics, Heart Disease, Infection, and Pacifika got in common?

A. They are all central to research project at the University of Otago Christchurch (UOC).

Here are some excerpts for the UOC summer newsletter (Written by UOC communications manager, Kim Thomas).

Christchurch in NASA Mars project role

University of Otago, Christchurch, researchers are playing a crucial role in research that will assist in NASA’s mission to Mars.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.15.21Thee Christchurch researchers are scanning the brains of explorers who have wintered in Antarctica as part of a NASA /German Aerospace Center project to understand what impact living in extreme environments has on the human brain. The research will be relevant for NASA’s plans to send humans to Mars. The shortest possible return trip to the red planet would take two years.

The international research team is led by the University of Pennsylvania’s Associate Professor Mathias Basner. His team will be scanning the brains of astronauts, while the Canterbury team focuses on those who have wintered in Antarctic’s extreme and isolated environment.

Dr Tracy Melzer is the MRI research manager for the Christchurch campus’ New Zealand Brain Research Institute. He says the research aims to understand whether prolonged periods in these extreme, isolated and hostile environments change brain structure and function.

His international collaborators have already found the hippocampus region of the brain, which is important for memory formation and visual/spatial orientation, actually shrinks during the Antarctica winter.

Dr Melzer and his colleagues will scan the brains of up to 28 international explorers over two years. They are tested before leaving for Antarctica, immediately on their return, then six months afterwards. The Christchurch scans are important because they capture explorers immediately as they return from the ice.

Preparing for future disease epidemics

Christchurch microbiologist Professor David Murdoch has taken part in an invitation-only global think tank aimed at better anticipating future infectious disease epidemics.

The head of the University of Otago, Christchurch’s Pathology Department was one of two Australasians invited to the World Health Organization-led event late last year.

Professor Murdoch says he was privileged to be among about 130 international experts invited to attend, including human and animal health experts, and members of aid agencies and the insurance and travel industries.

“ The big idea was how to better prepare for future epidemics, knowing there definitely will be ones. It also recognized reviews of the Ebola response and a desire to improve on that.”

Acknowledging the importance of collaboration, one key outcome of the event was getting people from diverse areas of expertise together, Professor Murdoch says.

Thee event consisted of six sessions, including ‘Back to the future: learning from the past’, and ‘Preventing the spread of infectious disease in a global village’. Each session consisted of short talks by five experts, then robust discussion.

Professor Murdoch spoke at the event about the relatively new area of microbiomes (the communities of microorganisms that inhabit parts of the human body) and how understanding it could help with preparing for and controlling future respiratory disease epidemics.

Some of the ideas that emerged from the event were that global and public health were getting more political attention than ever, and that health threats increasingly reflected nature, including the animal world, and so acknowledging and understanding its interplay with human health was important.

Contact between children monitored in world first infection study

Christchurch primary school pupils are wearing sensors tracking contact with each other in a world-leading study to better understand a common but serious disease.

The staphylococcus bacterium is a major cause of serious infections such as septicaemia, but also often presents as sores on the skin. Most commonly, though, it is carried harmlessly on skin or in noses, from where it can be passed on to others who might become ill. Very little is known about who passes it to whom in the community.

University of Otago, Christchurch researcher Dr Pippa Scott is testing levels of the bacteria in Linwood Avenue School pupils and, in a world first, monitoring contact between them using ‘proximity sensors’ to better understand how staphylococcus is passed from person to person.

Dr Scott says school-aged children o en spread u and other diseases so could be important to the spread of staphylococcus in the community.

“We asked a lot of schools if they would take part in the study and Linwood Avenue School principal Gerard Direen came back to us quickly and said the school would be really keen to help.’’

Dr Scott says 70 children aged between 8 and 11 were given the proximity sensors to wear clipped to their shirts for around 2 weeks. e sensors are not GPS devices and cannot pinpoint a child’s whereabouts but rather record when children come in contact with each other. They have never before been successfully used in a study linking infectious disease spread to contact in the same individuals.

The study is ongoing but early analysis found almost every child was carrying the bacterium at some stage during the seven times they were tested. More than half the children carried the bacteria at any one test session. Almost all strains the children had were susceptible to commonly prescribed drugs for the condition.

First study of South Island Pasifika heart health

“She was one of the first scientists to demonstrate our cells produce free radicals as part of their normal function.”

It’s well known that New Zealand’s Pacific population suffers higher rates of heart disease than the general population. But until now, evidence has been based on data gathered
in Auckland. University of Otago, Christchurch researcher Dr Allamanda Faatoese is changing that with the launch of the Pasifika Heart study of Christchurch Pacific people.

“Pacific communities living in Auckland have vastly di erence environments than those in Christchurch. We know little about the heart health pro le of Pasifika people in Christchurch,’’ she says.

The Heart Foundation-funded Pasifika Heart study will for the first time measure heart disease risk factors in 200 Pacific Island participants, both healthy people and those su ering from illness. Dr Faatoese is based at the University’s Christchurch Heart Institute but will study participants from across the South Island.

Each participant’s personal and family medical history, blood pressure and body composition will be recorded along with their cholesterol levels, blood sugars and markers linked with kidney function, gout and heart failure.

Christchurch has breast cancer research hub

Guest post by: Kim Thomas, Communications Manager at the University of Otago, Christchurch

Research Radar UOC

A team of specialist cancer researchers have joined forces to focus on the impact of obesity on breast cancer.

The researchers all work at the University of Otago, Christchurch’s Mackenzie Cancer Research Group. The Group is headed by Canterbury District Health Board oncologist Professor Bridget Robinson, a breast cancer expert.

Researchers Associate Professor Gabi Dachs, Dr Margaret Currie and Dr Logan Walker have previously investigated various aspects of cancer but decided to team up and focus on the significant health issue of obesity.

Associate Professor Dachs says that international studies have shown breast cancer patients who were obese before or after diagnosis are less likely to survive than patients with normal BMI. Risk of dying from breast cancer increases by a third for every increment of 5kg/m2 in BMI.

autumn15obesity

From left to right: A/Prof Gabi Dachs, Dr Margaret Currie, Dr Logan Walker

The three researchers are investigating different aspects of obesity and breast cancer:

  • Associate Professor Dachs is looking at molecular factors associated with obesity in cancer, particularly how fat cells communicate with cancer cells and negatively affect them.
  • Dr Margaret Currie is putting fat and breast cancer cells together to see how the fat cells make tumours more resistant to treatment. She suspects the fat cells provide ‘an extra energy hit’ to cancer cells by providing lipids, or fats, in addition to glucose.
  • Geneticist Dr Logan Walker will investigate whether the obesity-related gene responsible for the amylase enzyme in saliva (AMY1) contributes to breast cancer development. He will also explore the role of key genes that behave differently in breast tumours from obese women.

The researchers’ work is funded by the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation, the Cancer Society of New Zealand, the Canterbury and West Coast Division of the Cancer Society NZ, the Mackenzie Charitable Foundation and the University of Otago.

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Medical professionals act up

Actors are helping Christchurch medical students practise the skills necessary to relate to patients.

Dr Lynette Murdoch organises the General Practice component for 4th year medical students at the University of Otago, Christchurch.  She says the General Practice Department has long employed professional actors to play the role of simulated patients.

“The consultations our students have with the simulated patients allow them to apply their knowledge to realistic situations, and to practise the skills necessary to relate well with patients.  The students receive feedback directly from the simulated patients.’’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASimulated patients are people who pretend to be a particular patient with a particular condition. They can be actors or volunteers who are trained in order for the students to meet predetermined learning objectives.

The University of Otago, Christchurch educates medical students between their fourth to sixth and final year.  Students move between different specialities such as general practice and paediatrics. They also spend time at the Simulation Centre, which provides a safe environment for them, and postgraduate nursing students, to practise clinical and professional skills. They make use of high-technology manikins and Simulation Centre director Dr MaryLeigh Moore is investigating the greater use of actors, as well as at some stage recruiting volunteers from the community.

Dr Moore recently returned from a learning trip to a well-established Australian programme using simulated patients and volunteers

She explains: “Volunteers  – community members who are healthy or who have chronic illness – can contribute valuable learning opportunities to students by simply being themselves, and increasing opportunities for students to interact with a range of people.’’

“’Simulated patients bring consistency to their presentations and responses as opposed to the ‘real’ and varied responses and perspectives of volunteers.’’

Dr Moore says the benefits to the students are very real and volunteers and simulated patients can also experience a significant sense of reward from contributing to the training of doctors.

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This guest post was written by Kim Thomas,  Senior Communications Advisor, University of Otago, Christchurch, www.uoc.otago.ac.nz.

Legionnaires’ disease more common than once thought

Infectious diseases expert Professor David Murdoch is passionate about his work in better understanding legionnaires’ disease and its causes.

“If I ever have the opportunity in my career to help eradicate a disease it would likely be legionnaires’ disease. It’s the most common cause of pneumonia for much of the year in Christchurch and it has a far greater impact on community health and the hospital than people realise.’’

Professor David Murdoch, University of Otago Christchurch

Professor David Murdoch, University of Otago Christchurch

Professor Murdoch has just published research showing the potentially fatal disease is four times more prevalent in Canterbury than previously thought. He believes the results will apply to other centres and has sought funding to do New Zealand-wide research.

Professor Murdoch says special tests are required to diagnose legionnaires’ disease because it looks the same as other forms of pneumonia on an x-ray and has similar symptoms.

It is important to know if a patient has legionnaires’ disease as specific antibiotics are required to treat it which differ from the standard treatment for pneumonia.

Professor Murdoch says he and colleagues from the Canterbury Health Laboratories introduced a new strategy in 2010 whereby all samples from Canterbury patients with pneumonia were tested for legionnaires’ disease.

“It’s a very simple approach but we don’t think anyone else has done this globally.’’

“We have more than quadrupled the detection of legionnaires’ disease with this new strategy and highlighted a big spring/summer peak in activity that is more predictable every year in Christchurch than influenza. This peak is associated with gardening activities but the actual cause is not known.’’

Professor Murdoch is now studying Cantabrians who test positive for Legionnaires’ disease in greater depth to try and understand what specific gardening activities or other activities are implicated.

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This guest post was written by Kim Thomas,  Senior Communications Advisor, University of Otago, Christchurch, www.uoc.otago.ac.nz.

Television New Zealand news article relating to this issue: http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/researchers-hope-uncover-cause-deadly-disease-5702569

 

 

More women injured in quakes

A Christchurch researcher is trying to understand why so many more women than men were injured in the Canterbury earthquakes.

Professor Mike Ardagh is Chair of the RHISE (Researching the Health Implications of Seismic Events) group.

Professor Ardagh leads a team investigating the health system response to the quakes. His team found the health system responded remarkably well to a massive event, including the activation of well-practiced plans and innovation to overcome issues such as loss of power. Looking at ACC statistics, they discovered that significantly more women than men were injured, across all degrees of injury.

“We have a few hypotheses about why this is but have not proven anything yet. We are working on this question in collaboration with Professor David Johnston of Massey University.’’

quakepicProfessor Johnston is studying how people behave during earthquakes and is probing whether certain behaviours, such as running or staying still, put some at greater risk.

Some of the other topics being explored by the RHISE group are:

  • Variations in stress according to peoples’ homes or workplaces, and their exposure to quake damage.
  • The impact on older peoples’ health.
  • The impact on front line workers’ occupational health.
  • The on-going psychological impact.

The gender and injury project will take at least a year.

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This guest post was written by Kim Thomas,  Senior Communications Advisor, University of Otago, Christchurch, www.uoc.otago.ac.nz.  Several more posts related to the work of the University of Otago Christchurch will follow.

Did you know?

• The University of Otago, Christchurch, has about 600 postgraduate students, mostly health professionals such as nurses.

• This year 45 science and medical students will get a taste of research with our Summer Studentship programme.

• Thousands of doctors have done their final clinical years training in Christchurch.

• We are home to many excellent research groups such as the Christchurch Heart Institute, the Christchurch Health and Development Study and the Centre for Free Radical Research.

Papanui Campus closes!

917 days; 131 weeks; 2.5 years.  However you look at it, it’s a long time to be temporary.  Today the Papanui Campus of the University of Otago Christchurch, a.k.a the Versatile workshop in my front yard, closed.  The sole permanent occupant (moi) became the last of the academics to return to the “main building” of the University of Otago Christchurch after we were unceremoniously evicted on 22 February 2011 (about time someone came up with a better name than “Main Building”). I’ve written elsewhere of that day when I commemorated two years since the earthquake and of the value of the Papanui campus when it turned  800 days. I’ll miss having the family close (perhaps not the dog), impromptu games of basketball (only 5 minutes boss…honest), and being on hand during that time when we went through all that shaking.  I shan’t miss the cramped space, the expense, or the loss of a workshop (maybe my son will be able to have his train set up again!). Today marks a new era for me as I return to an office in the centre of the Christchurch campus … I hope to discover some colleagues here that exist in the flesh and not only as words or images in cyberspace. In the process I hope to continue those incremental discoveries which will lead to better health for many.  My department has just endorsed a new plan for that… but that is the topic of a future post.