Tag Archives: university of otago

University of Otago Papanui turns 800

Day one was ground breaking – 23 Feb 2011, the day after the big Christchurch earthquake.  Today is day 800 of what I lovingly refer to as the Papanui campus of University of Otago Christchurch.  For my children it’s just the office out the front of the house where their father works.  For me, it used to be my workshop & study.  Once upon a time it was computer and telephone free!  That all changed at midday on 22 February 2011 when I and my colleagues were unceremoniously thrown out of the University of Otago Christchurch building (you know the big building at the front of Christchurch hospital with the glass facade with the words “Research Saves Lives” written across it).  My ICU, ED and other medico colleagues went to work immediately, while the rest of us watched the first of the injured arrive at the hospital on the back of utes and sitting in the boots of cars. I hung around until I was sure my students and staff could all get home.  After an hour or so I walked home – first across Hagley park with hundreds of others exiting the city.  I chatted with a woman who got out of Ballantynes and another who escaped the carnage in Cashel Street.  A house not far from my own had partially collapsed – I went on to the property and called out to see if anyone was there.  I got hold of a neighbour who told me that the people who live there both work somewhere in town.  I prayed that they would be OK as they were in for a shock when they returned home.  Eventually I get home.  My family, including the dog, were not there – they had gone looking for me.  All the while the ground kept shaking.  My family returned and we rejoiced in each other’s presence.

My OfficeThe next day I opened my office thinking I may have to work at home for a few days.  My PhD student Dr Maryam Nejat was in touch.  She got home OK, but she was at a loss what to do about her thesis.  It was on her computer at work.  She’d been due to submit it within a month.  Fortunately, I had a laptop at home with a reasonably recent draft.  Maryam came around and we got to work, the first meeting at the Papanui campus.

The Papanui Campus

The Papanui Campus

When the quake hit I’d been in the middle of submitting an article to a journal for consideration for publication.  This too had to be retrieved and resubmitted somehow.  My colleagues involved in lab research suddenly had their facilities unavailable.  They were very concerned about the welfare of the animals.  My somewhat minimal role as group manager took on a new dimension.  Fortunately, those I work with were so very competent.  We discovered the animals had taken great priority and people were in the building feeding and caring for them all the while nobody else went inside.

As we watched the news, prayed for rescues, and held our breath every time the earth moved my thoughts turned to what else I could do.  I was fortunate to live in an area relatively unharmed, apart from the one house I mentioned.  The little liquefaction in the road around the corner had quickly been moved off the footpaths into the gutters and I’d hopped on the roof the neighbour’s house to remove chimney bricks threatening to fall on those below.  No medical skills, no search and rescue skills, no great shakes with a shovel (besides, my family didn’t want me out of sight for a while), I did what I could and went into work, 5 metres from the front door.  After all, Acute Kidney Injury is a great risk in crush victims and while I couldn’t help the people in the Christchurch quake, maybe I’ll do something for other quake victims in the future.

Messages started to come through from the Dean. The building had been yellow stickered for “remedial work”, but it looked like we would only be out of the building for about 4-8 weeks.  In the meantime, we were allowed to enter the building to retrieve essential items (computer!).

After 7 weeks (mid April) we were told occupancy of our offices and labs may not be till July. So I beefed up my broadband allowance.  Then we were told September (2011 remember!).  After that predictions no longer came.  The first staff went back into the building in November 2012, 21 months after the quake.  Nearly all academics (I may be the last left working elsewhere?) are back in the building now, the labs are open, the students are at lectures, the library is moving back in next week, and the Dean’s office should be back in about a month.

So, day 800 and lots to celebrate at the Papanui Campus:  Two PhD theses, 15 journal articles submitted and accepted, 1 book chapter, an ED & ICU study completed, another ICU study data collected, a lab study managed to completion in temporary location, new collaborations with colleagues in Germany, USA, Canada and Auckland, and a couple of online conferences.  An additional bonus has been the joy of working from home and seeing my family throughout the day (my children are Home educated).  Not so thrilling is the dog coming and nudging me when he wants some attention. Scariest moment was the large “after shock” in June 2011 where I held on to the monitor, ducked my head under the desk, and my group director on Skype from Sydney watched my printer fly off a filing cabinet behind me.  Perhaps the most difficult thing for a scientist working alone is the sense of isolation.  Email and Skype only partially ameliorate that.  I also make regular trips into town to visit colleagues and drink coffee.  Of the writing of blogs there is no end, but I have found participating in a couple of online blogging communities has kept me from having too narrow a focus.  How many more days there are for the Papanui Campus I do not know.  Little did I know when I built this Versatile sleepout 12 years ago that it would become a small outpost of Otago University. I don’t expect it will make the official history of the university, but it is now indelibly part of my personal history and I am very grateful that I have been able to work here.

Papanui campus in action. Left to right: Myself, Dr Azrina Md Ralib, Prof Zoltan Endre

Papanui campus in action. Left to right: Myself, Dr Azrina Md Ralib, Prof Zoltan Endre

Happy WKD

I love living in NZ, it enables me to be the first in the world to wish everyone a happy World Kidney Day.  May your kidneys never lack oxygen, be always filtering, and ever distant from the nephrologists biopsy needle!

Let me remind you:

 If it weren’t for your kidneys where would you be

You’d be in the hospital or mortuary

If you didn’t have functioning kidneys

(with apologies to John Clarke)

Better, take a look at this video too (from www.worldkidneyday.org):

This year’s theme for World Kidney Day is “Kidneys for Life: Stop Kidney Attack.”  If you’ve not caught up with my myriad of other posts, Kidney Attack (aka Acute Kidney Injury) is the rapid loss of kidney function and/or structural damage brought about by toxic damage to the kidneys or temporary loss of blood to the kidneys.

This week I published a blank post entitled “A list of effective treatments for Kidney Attack.”  There is no known treatment – merely acute dialysis, a support for the kidneys, not a treatment. There is no treatment because detection is delayed and difficult and because not enough research has been done.

The good news is that I and many others around the world are engaged in finding new ways of detecting this disease.  Before I list some of the good news I want you all to repeat after me “30,000 kidney attacks a year in New Zealand, 1300 deaths.”  If you live out of New Zealand you may say “Two million die of Kidney Attack each year.”  Now tell someone else … anyone … the next person you see (not your boss if you read this at work).  Well done, thank you.

So, for some good news:

Hooray – we have for the first time means of measuring structural damage to the kidneys.  For us, this is the X-ray moment.  Imagine life before the X-ray – all that could be said is that you could no longer bowl a bouncer (throw a curve ball), play the piano, or dance a jig (whatever that is).  In other words, all that could be said was function was lost.  With the X-ray actual injury to the bone could be observed.  Importantly, it could be observed before function was lost permanently.  The measurement of various molecules we make in the urine are to us like the X-ray – they are measures of injury to the kidney (we call them biomarkers).

We are busy investigating how best to use these biomarkers and have been discovering:

  • which are best after Cardiac surgery, Contrast procedures or in the ICU (all risk factors for Kidney Attack),
  • what the optimal timing is for measurement of each biomarker,
  • how to use the biomarkers in Randomised Controlled Trials aimed at testing new treatments,
  • which biomarkers are best for detecting Kidney Attack when someone has additional co-morbidities like sepsis, and
  • which biomarkers add the most value to what we already know and enable the best assessment of risk of poor outcomes.

In the meantime, some of my work has shown how we can better utilise the information we already have with urine output and the mainstay of nephrology, the plasma creatinine measure:

  • the discovery that even when creatinine does not change after Cardiac Arrest there is likely to be Kidney Attack (it had been thought that it was only when creatinine was elevated there was a problem),
  • a combined measurement of plasma & urine creatinine and urine flow rate (called creatinine clearance) over a short period of time in the ICU helps identify Kidney Attack patients otherwise missed,
  • how best to estimate someone’s “normal renal function” so that a judgment can be made if it has recently changed, and
  • how best to utilise creatinine in Randomised Controlled Trials to tell if an intervention is improving kidney function.

All these add up to progress.  My own and my group’s work over the last 6 years has received funding from a number of funders (see logos attached) some of which originate with your tax dollar – hence my commitment to keep the tax payers informed. I am indebted to my boss, Professor Zoltan Endre, not only did her hire me (I think he mistook Physicist to mean Physician!), he has taught me heaps and consequently we have formed a strong collaboration. Our work has also depended on the good staff of Dunedin and Christchurch Hospital ICU’s, Christchurch Emergency Department, and the Canterbury Health Laboratories.  Without the commitment to research these people make, progress would not have been made.  Most important are the patients or their families who have consented for us to take extra samples or enroll them in a trial. The decision to participate is often made at a difficult time – families wrestling with issues of possible death or long term health issues of their loved ones.  I salute them.  I thank them.  New hope, new medicines, new tests, and new procedures are built on the courage and generosity of the patients and families who participate in research.

Sponsors who have provided grants (top row), or run assays (middle row), or provided free accommodation (me!) for the Christchurch Kidney Research Group, University of Otago.

Sponsors who have provided grants (top row), or run assays (middle row), or provided free accommodation (me!) for the Christchurch Kidney Research Group, University of Otago.

2 years on the Papanui campus remembers and celebrates

This post is published at 12:51 February 22 2013 – exactly 2 years to the day from the deadly Christchurch quake and 5.5km from where I was on that day.  This morning I met with a PhD student as she prepares the penultimate version of her thesis.  Two years ago she, I, another PhD student and several others from my research group occupied the “clip on” on the University of Otago Christchurch building above the main entrance of Christchurch Hospital. Less than 24 hours later the Papanui campus was established.  First PhD student was within one month of submission of her thesis.  The first task was to rescue as much of the thesis as we could from USB sticks etc.  Fortunately we managed to put together enough to get on with, and her thesis eventually had a successful outcome.

My OfficeWhen I reflect now, I just got on with what I knew I could do. I left my medical colleagues in the hospital to get on with what they knew best.  I stood outside the hospital main entrance and saw the first casualties being brought in. Once I was sure that my students and colleagues were OK to find their way home, like thousands of others I started walking home to check on my own family.  In the meantime, others worked.  Yesterday I heard Prof Michael Ardagh, head of the Emergency Department, talk about the response of the hospital staff and medical students.  It is a remarkable story – it worked, and lives were saved, because plans were in place.  It worked because the staff put others ahead of themselves.  This was not just the doctors and nurses.  It was the med students who ran errands, the maintenance staff her with ingenuity (story of a truck and syphoning diesel) kept generators running, of blood bank staff in the bowels of the hospital ankle deep in water with intermittent power processing requests from the ED and ICU, of the Canterbury Health Labs who picked up their equipment, recalibrated, and were back on line within 20 minutes.

The Papanui Campus at age 730 days

The Papanui Campus at age 730 days


The University of Otago Christchurch building is now open again.  The students are back, and the labs up and running.  I hope to get an office back sometime in the next month or two.  The scientific community from the universities of Lincoln and Canterbury, and private enterprises like Canterbury Scientific have been fantastic at opening their doors and hosting labs and staff.  Others, like myself, established themselves where they could and got on with what they could.  While there are casualties of the disruption – staff moved on (I no longer have a lab group to work with), studies interrupted (I had a study going in the ED and ICU at the time which was inevitably suspended), and grants not able to be written for lack of staff, pilot data etc, there has also been much success to celebrate.  Not least are two years of teaching which happened at various odd venues around the city including several sporting club rooms.  Prof Christine Winterbourne was awarded the highest scientific award in New Zealand in 2011 – the Rutherford Medal, and there were other awards for Uni Otago Christchurch staff too.  Just this past month some colleagues have received promotions to Professorships – deserved.  Some new research areas have begun, particularly over the health effects of a major disaster. Students have graduated, and many papers have been published (12 & a book chapter for me in the last 2 years 🙂 ).  Plenty to celebrate.

Across the front of the University of Otago Christchurch building are the words “Research Saves Lives.”  Decades of research saved lives on 22 February 2011.  The research in the years since will save lives in the years to come.  Well done colleagues.  Thank you Canterbury for the support.

Live from UOC 40th anniversary lectures

This afternoon I have heard presentations from seven former students of the Christchurch Med School (University of Otago Christchurch), almost all now Professors.  It has been fascinaying and moving.

1.00 – 1.25 Professor Vicky Cameron, Cardiovascular risk factors in Maori and non- Maori communities: Strategies for improved clinical management’ 

Fascinating comparision between an urban Maori, Rural Maori and urban non-Maori cohort.  Despite  good access to primary care  and little access to fast food outlets urban Maori were exhibiting the highest risk factors.

1.25 – 1.45 Mr Tim Eglinton, ‘Starting at the bottom and working up: Perianal Crohn’s Disease in Canterbury’

Canterbury has one of the highestrates of Chrons disease in the world!

1.45 – 2.15 Dr Quentin Durward, ‘The Crash of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, July 19 1989: Community and Medical Response to a Mass- Casualty Commercial Airliner Disaster’

Very moving account of dealin with an air disaster.  Fortunately there was a great plan in place.

2.15 – 2.45 Professor Michael Ardagh, ‘After the dust settles – researching the health implications of seismic events’

Also very moving.  Prof Ardagh is head of the Emergency Department here.  He talked about the response to the earthquake.  Again the importance of a plan can not be overesimated.     Who knew that during those first few hours the blood bank was still processing requests while ankle deep in water, suffering power outages, in a basement of a very shakey multistory building, all at the same time as not knowing about  their own families?  More heroes unsung!

 

Afternoon sessions

Come tomorrow.

Chair: Professor Lisa Stamp

3.30 – 4.00 Professor Brian Darlow, ‘From small to

big – clinical research in newborn medicine’

4.00 – 4.30 Professor Rob Walker, ‘Nephrology: Ross Bailey – Drugs and the Kidney’

4.30 – 5.00 Professor Bridget Robinson, ‘Keeping Cancer Research Close to the Patient’