Tag Archives: university of otago

Aunty Cecily

This international women’s day I read a re-post of a wonderful article about Otago University women in science.  I thought I’d add another one, my Aunt Cecily, or to the rest of the world Dame Cecily Pickerill.

Aunty Cecily was clever, determined, and, yes, a tough woman.   It was those qualities that helped her to help many people.

She was born, Cecily Mary Aroha Wise Clarkson in Taihape in 1903 less than 18 months after her parents had arrived from England. Taihape in those days was forests, mud, a building boom and horses.  It appears to have also been a place she could get a good education.  At a young age, just 18, she made it all the way to Dunedin to attend Otago Medical School.  By then her family was in Auckland.  I don’t know what drew her to medicine. Perhaps it was through world war 1 or the flu epidemic that followed that influenced her. Her own Father had been at Gallipoli as a chaplain with the NZ armed forces during the war and invalided home in late 1915.  Just a year after Cecily started University her parents took her two younger sisters and left New Zealand permanently, ending up in Laguna Beach in California.  Her two, slightly older, brothers remained in New Zealand. She needed to be independent at a young age.

She first came across the art and science of plastic surgery while a house surgeon under the tutelage of Professor Henry Pickerill.  Pickerill was the first director of the Otago dental school. During world war I he became one of the pioneers in facial and reconstructive surgery while with the New Zealand Medical Corp.  Many of the men being treated were transferred to Dunedin at the end of the war.

Cecily spent a few years in California working and living with her family before joining Henry in Sydney in about 1933.  She married Henry at the end of 1934.  Later they moved back to Wellington and both worked as plastic surgeons in Wellington and at Middlemore.   In 1942 they set up Bassam hospital in Lower Hutt for plastic surgery on children – mainly repairing cleft palates and the like.

One of the remarkable features of their work in Bassam was the elimination of hospital cross-infection in children.  They wrote of this in the Lancet in 1954  (Pickerill, C. M., & Pickerill, H. P. (1954). Elimination of hospital cross-infection in children: nursing by the mother. Lancet, 266(6809), 425–429.)

In that article they wrote “what chance of success has a plastic operation on the plate or lip if the child contracts a mixed viral and bacterial infection of the field of operation …”  They noted the lavish use of chromium plating, enamel and wearing of masks… but still there was infection.  The Pickerill’s solution was both simple and innovative – they brought the mother in to nurse the child and gave mother and infant a room to themselves. “Not only do they live together in their own room, but nobody except the mother bathes, dresses, or feeds the patient or changes his nappies.”  This, and other measures, resulted in the remarkable result that after 11 year’s work they had “no single case of cross-infection.”

Aunt Cecily was intelligent, and caring, but also strict (ask my mother about the spider in the bathroom if you want a story about just how strict).  It was that strictness which meant Bassam could be a tight ship and produce such remarkable results.

She was also a woman who loved to travel and garden.  She brought rocks home from travels overseas which ended up as part of her fireplace in a house, Beechdale, designed by my grandfather, in Silverstream.  Her beautiful garden featured in magazines and TV shows.

I recall visiting her in the mid ‘80s at Beechdale when I was in my first job after graduating with a BSc(Hons).  I wasn’t particularly happy with the job at the time.  She was sitting in a comfortable chair in her lounge with a magnifying glass and an open scientific journal.  I realised then, that science and the love of science are for life.

Later when I was doing my PhD on the use of a copper vapour laser to remove birthmarks, I felt even closer to her when one of the patients we treated had had the birthmark partly removed by her surgically.  Many years later a little of it had regrown around the edges which we were able to treat with the laser.

My last memory of her was when she was in her last few weeks of life.  She was in a room in Bassam hospital which was had by then been turned into a hospice.  She had the radio going with some very modern music – which we joked about.  It was fitting that she spent her final days being cared for in the place that she had spent so many days caring for others.

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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.

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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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HRC success in Christchurch

The Health Research Council announced Programme and Project grant recipients.  Here’s the list from the Christchurch campus of the University of Otago in which I get a brief mention :).  If others have abstracts of successful grants they’d like posted on this blog, then please let me know.

*****Update: It’s come to my attention that this announcement sent to Uni Otago staff left off the investigator lists investigators who were not current University staff.  I’ve added a few I know about below, but here may be others left out of the list, sorry.  ****

Monday, 9 June 2014.

University of Otago, Christchurch researchers have been awarded more than $8 million of Health Research Council 2014 funding. The results were announced by Minister Steven Joyce at 11.30am today.

The funded projects are:

  • HRC Programme Grant to Professor Mark Richards: Heart Failure: markers and management ($4,980,858).
  • HRC Project Grant to Professor David Murdoch: Legionnaires’ disease in New Zealand: improving diagnostics and treatment ($999,467).
  • HRC Project Grant to Dr Ben Hudson: A randomised controlled trial of nortriptyline in knee osteoarthritis ($1,190,921).
  • HRC Project Grant to Professor Tim Anderson Genetics, brain imaging, and cognitive decline in Parkinson’s disease ($1,178,804).
  • Emerging Researcher First Grant to Dr Tracy Melzer: Imaging markers of imminent cognitive decline in Parkinson’s disease ($149,943).

A summary of each project follows:

HRC Programme Grant to Professor Mark Richards ($4,980,858)

Heart Failure: markers and management

Heart failure (HF) will affect 20% of people now aged 40 years and confers high rates of early readmission and death.  Professor Richards and his team will implement an integrated programme addressing unmet needs in HF including: (1) The IMPERATIVE-HF controlled trial of intensified immediate post-discharge management using special blood tests to individually grade risk and guide intervention with rapid adjustments to treatment to improve outcomes. (2) Testing of candidate kidney damage markers for early warning of this frequent and dangerous complication of HF. (3) Establishing correct sampling times for novel markers for best prediction of early and long term outcomes in HF. (4) Testing our newly discovered markers for early warning of pneumonia complicating HF. (5) Clarification of diagnoses and testing management plans for patients in the Emergency Department with breathlessness or chest pain who do not have clear-cut HF or heart attacks but who nevertheless have elevated blood biomarkers and a poor outlook.

Other investigators are: Prof Vicky Cameron, Prof Richard Troughton, A/Prof Chris Pemberton, A/Prof Miriam Rademaker, A/Prof Chris Frampton, Prof Chris Charles, Dr Leigh Ellmers, Medicine, A/Prof John Pickering, Dr Anna Pilbrow (all University of Otago). Professor Zoltan Endre (University of New South Wales), Dr Martin Than (ED, Christchurch District Health Board), Prof Robert Doughty (University of Auckland), Dr James Pemberton (Cardiology, Auckland District Health Board)

HRC Project Grant to Professor David Murdoch ($999,467)

Legionnaires’ disease in New Zealand: improving diagnostics and treatment

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia that is under-diagnosed in New Zealand. Special tests are required to make a diagnosis of legionnaires’ disease, but there are no clear guidelines about which patients to test. An enhanced testing system for legionnaires’ disease was developed in Canterbury and has been used there since 2010. The system involves targeted use of the current best test for legionnaires’ disease: PCR(polymerase chain reaction), which detects bacterial DNA. This approach has uncovered many cases of legionnaires’ disease that would have otherwise gone undetected. This study will roll out this same testing strategy across New Zealand for one year in order to measure the national burden of legionnaires’ disease, toimprove patient treatment, to identify cost-effective ways to test for legionnaires’ disease in the future, and to create better guidelines for the treatment of pneumonia.

Other investigators: A/Prof Patricia Priest, Prof Stephen Chambers, Dr Ian Sheerin.

HRC Project Grant to Dr Ben Hudson ($1,190,921)

A randomised controlled trial of nortriptyline in knee osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a very common and painful condition.  Medicines currently available for treating OA pain are not ideal: they are either inadequately effective or cause unpleasant or dangerous side effects. Recent research has shown how the brain processes pain in OA and this has opened up the possibility of using different types of medicines for OA pain.  Nortriptyline (an antidepressant) has been used to treat persistent pain in other conditions, and other antidepressants may reduce pain in knee OA.  It is not known whether nortriptyline is useful in this condition.  We plan to test this effect by randomly allocating participants to treatment with nortriptyline or placebo and to measure changes in their pain before and after a period on the medication.  We hope that this will tell us whether nortriptyline will be helpful.  If it is, then we believe that many people may benefit from taking this medicine.

Other investigators: Prof Les Toop, Prof Lisa Stamp, Dr Jonathan Williman, Prof Gary Hooper, A/Prof Dee Mangin, Ms Bronwyn Thompson

HRC Project Grant to Professor Tim Anderson ($1,178,804)

Genetics, brain imaging, and cognitive decline in Parkinson’s disease

Many people with Parkinson’s are at risk of dementia but scientists and clinicians have been unable to predict when that will occur. Professor Tim Anderson and his team will do advanced brain scans (MRI and PET) gene testing and clinical evaluations in 85 Parkinson’s patients who have mild cognitive impairments, who are known to be at higher risk, and then determine whether they progress to dementia over the subsequent three years. By identifying characteristics present in the scans and genetic tests of those who develop dementia, compared to those who do not, Professor Anderson and his team can advance understanding of this important issue and establish a useful and reliable tool for researchers and clinicians. It is critical to do this so that preventative treatments to protect against dementia can be targeted at the most appropriate patients when that treatment becomes available and also to select the right ‘at risk’ Parkinson’s patients for trials of new treatments.

Other investigators are: Prof Martin Kennedy, Dr Tracy Melzer, Dr John Pearson.  Prof. John Dalrymple-Alford (University of Canterbury), Dr Ross Keenan (CDHB, Christchurch Radiology Group), Prof. David Miller (University College London)

HRC Emerging Researcher First Grant to Dr Tracy Melzer ($149,943)

Imaging markers of imminent cognitive decline in Parkinson’s disease.

Most Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients eventually develop dementia, which is the most burdensome aspect of this progressively worsening condition.  Mild cognitive impairments often indicate imminent dementia, but the two to 20 year time course poses a major problem for medical interventions, as brain changes associated with dementia in PD are still poorly understood.  Recent evidence suggests that neurodegenerative diseases such as PD progress along discrete brain networks.  One important network, known as the ‘default mode network’ appears particularly susceptible to neurodegeneration. Dr Melzer and his team will examine this network to determine if its disruption can specify which PD patients are vulnerable to progression to dementia within the next two years. A sophisticated but readily available brain imaging technique, called resting state functional imaging, will be used. These measures will assist in the selection of the most suitable patients for new treatments that may delay or prevent subsequent dementia in this vulnerable population.

The other investigator is: Prof Tim Anderson. Prof. John Dalrymple-Alford (University of Canterbury), Dr Ross Keenan (CDHB, Christchurch Radiology Group), Dr Daniel Myell (NZ Brain Research Institute)

 

A taste of success

Some recent successes of University of Otago Christchurch researchers:

Chlorine bleach key in disease?

Professor Tony Kettle from the Centre for Free Radical Research has won a prestigious Marsden Fund grant to better understand a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ chemical with a role in heart disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Professor Kettle will investigate chlorine bleach’s role in strengthening collagen by linking to form a resilient mesh. Without this mesh people can develop cataracts and an autoimmune disease that destroys the kidneys and causes the lungs to hemorrhage. However bleach can also have negative effects.

“Chlorine bleach should be viewed as a natural chemical with a Jekyll and Hyde personality. It helps us to fight infections and form strong connective tissue but also endangers our health during uncontrolled inflammation.”

Professor Kettle and his team will work with researchers from Vienna and Budapest on the project.

Improving the treatment and experience for dialysis patients

Chronic kidney disease is common, affecting about 500,000 New Zealanders. It is important because it increases chances of heart disease and death and may lead to needing treatment with dialysis or a kidney transplant. Dialysis therapy is a heavy and costly burden for patients and their families and the health system. However, there is a lack of reliable evidence to improve patient outcomes.

Dr Suetonia Palmer has just been awarded a prestigious Rutherford Discovery Fellowship valued at $800,000 over five years for research project called: “Improving evidence for decision-makers in chronic kidney disease.”

Dr Palmer’s research aims to to provide rigorous overviews of existing research and participant-led enquiry to provide better and more useable information for clinicians, consumers and policy-makers in the field of chronic kidney disease.

Recovering from food addiction

Professor Doug Sellman and his team from the National Addiction Centre have just been granted funding to trial a new treatment for those with obesity called Kia Akina.

“There is a serious need to develop new non-surgical ways of treating obesity because obesity-related diseases are expensive for New Zealand, traditional non-surgical methods are not working, and surgery is very costly,” says Professor Sellman.

Kia Akina uses a ‘food addiction’ approach to obesity. Professor Sellman says the project will test the feasibility, short-term effectiveness and participant satisfaction ofKia Akina within a primary health care setting.

If shown to be effective, Kia Akina will be developed as a non-commercial, low cost network for obesity recovery throughout New Zealand.

Innovation in Indigenous Health

Christchurch’s Maori/Indigenous Health Institute (MIHI) recently won the Australasian award for ‘innovation in Indigenous health curriculum implementation’ at the Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education (LIME) conference.

The LIME conference brings together all 20 medical schools throughout Australia and New Zealand, and hosts attendees from the United States and Canada.

Staff and students of the University of Otago, Christchurch, in Darwin at the Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education (LIME) conference

Staff and students of the University of Otago, Christchurch, in Darwin at the Leaders in Indigenous Medical Education (LIME) conference

MIHI director Suzanne Pitama says she and her team were thrilled to receive the award. As there is much collaboration between indigenous teaching teams at University of Otago’s Christchurch, Wellington and Dunedin campuses, the award recognises the innovation of all these teams.  It also recognised the systemic support within the University of Otago to prioritise indigenous health within the curriculum.

MIHI oversees the Maori health component of the medical curriculum at the University of Otago, Christchurch.

Award nominees are judged on how well their teaching programmes demonstrate their commitment and experience to understanding and furthering the health of Maori and Indigenous peoples.

The award has been presented for four years, says Pitama. MIHI also won it in the inaugural year.

A review panel of academic peers and members of indigenous medical doctors associations judge the award, Pitama says.

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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

 

 

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.

Two new Health Research Council grants worth crowing about

This week’s announcement by the HRC of Feasibility Study and Emerging Researcher grants have many great projects.  Two in particular are worth crowing about (because they have some relationship to kidneys and they involve two excellent people).  I have put summaries in their own words below, but first my comments.

Dr Palmer (Department of Medicine, University of Otago Christchurch), who has appeared on this blog site before, conducts what in the trade are called “meta-analyses” and “systematic reviews.”  Simply put, these are methods to extract the best possible evidence from all the studies that have been done for the effectiveness of a treatment.  Just as one person may toss a coin 4 times in a row and get 4 heads, so too can any one trial give a mistaken impression that a treatment is efficacious (or not) when it really isn’t (or is).  By pooling together many treatments Suetonia provides the very best quality evidence available.  Given that Chronic Kidney Disease affects a large and growing proportion of us, knowing which treatments have the best outcomes is of national significance, not merely to our health but also to the national budget.  A particular problem is that after a trial it can be many many years until meaningful health outcomes are know (e.g. if the treatment delays dialysis need or reduces mortality).  Suetonia’s study will assess the effectiveness of surrogate endpoints for clinical trials.  Surrogate endpoints, such as plasma creatinine which I’ve discussed many time in this blog, are physiologically related to the functioning of an organ or to a disease state as well as statistically associated with future hard outcomes.  However, their use in trials is limited by how well they are associated and how they are used.  I look forward to finding out what Suetonia discovers.

Mrs Rachael Parke (Auckland DHB) is an experienced nurse undertaking a PhD. Ensuring patients have adequate fluids on board is particularly crucial to the kidneys and other organs. Obviously with surgery any blood loss needs to be compensated for. However, there are also physiological changes in where fluid is distributed throughout the body.  Cardiopulmonary bypass, used in cardiac surgery, is a particular risk factor for Acute Kidney Injury. In the past the practice has been to give large amounts of fluid in order to ensure adequate fluid is given.  However, recent research has shown that too much fluid can have a negative impact (increased mortality).  A more restrictive fluid regime may have very meaningful outcomes.  Rachael is investigating, in a randomised controlled trial, if restricting fluid improves outcomes.  The outcome she is most interested in is how long patients stay in the hospital.  This is a very practical outcome for both patient and budget.  I am particularly pleased that this study is nurse-led.  Nurses play an incredibly important role in research as well as patient management.

In their own words:

Dr Suetonia Palmer: Making better clinical decisions to prevent kidney disease

More than ten percent of adults will develop chronic kidney disease. The effectiveness of many treatments used to improve outcomes in kidney disease is tested against surrogate (indirect) markers of health (e.g., cholesterol levels or blood pressure).

Unexpectedly, subsequent systematic analysis has identified little evidence to show that treatment strategies based on these surrogate markers translate to improved health for patients. Serum creatinine and proteinuria levels are commonly-used markers of kidney function to guide treatment.

The research involves using systematic review methods to summarise the quality of evidence for using proteinuria and serum creatinine as markers of treatment effectiveness in clinical trials. It will be determined whether using these markers to guide clinical care improves patient health or, conversely, leads to treatment-related harm or excessive use of ineffective medication.

These summaries will help clinicians and patients make better shared decisions about which therapeutic strategies actually improve clinical outcomes in kidney disease.

Mrs Rachel Parke: Fluid therapy after cardiac surgery – A feasibility study

Following cardiac surgery, patients receive large amounts of fluid in the intensive care unit. This may cause problems with wound healing and delay hospital discharge. A planned randomised controlled trial of a restrictive fluid regime as compared to a more liberal approach utilising advance hemodynamic monitoring, aims to reduce the amount of fluid patients receive and reduce hospital length of stay. This feasibility study aims to determine whether this nurse-led protocol is practicable and feasible and will help answer the research question. This study is simple and inexpensive and if it demonstrates a decreased length of hospital stay then this will represent a significant benefit for both individual patients and the health system.