Dr Mark Hobbs
Centre for Longitudinal Research, University of Auckland
New Zealand children experience a high rate of hospitalisation for serious skin and soft tissue infections (SSSTI), with Maori and Pacific children disproportionately affected. This project aims to determine the relative contribution of social, economic, ethnic, environmental, genetic and microbiological factors to the incidence of SSSTI in children aged less than 5 years. I will complete this project within the Growing Up in New Zealand cohort study. The cohort is large (n = 6853) and ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. I will identify all cohort children who were admitted to hospital with an SSSTI, and compare them to cohort children not admitted to hospital with an SSSTI. I will analyse data describing the host (demographics, health status, variations in the genes that determine immune responses to infection); the organism (variations in the bacteria resident in the nose, throat and skin of cohort children at age 4 years) and the environment (household environment, socioeconomic deprivation, access to healthcare) and determine the relative contribution of host, organism and environmental factors to SSSTI. The results will provide new knowledge to guide future efforts to reduce the incidence of SSSTI in New Zealand children.
Ms Sarah Bristow
Dept of Medicine, University of Auckland
Osteoporosis affects 50% of women and 30% of men, representing an enormous health and economic burden on New Zealand. Calcium supplements are widely recommended to treat or prevent osteoporosis; however, they have recently been shown to increase the risk of a heart attack. The reason for this is unclear. In a recent study, we found calcium supplements had some adverse effects on blood pressure and blood clotting shortly after they were taken. These effects could explain the increased risk of a heart attack; however, this study was too small to be definitive. The aim of this project is to examine these effects in a larger clinical trial. Without the use of calcium supplements, most people find it difficult to meet the recommended intakes of calcium through diet alone. Many adults may therefore be at an increased risk of osteoporosis. However, the relationship between dietary calcium intake and the risk of developing osteoporosis or having a fracture is unclear. The second aim of this project is to thoroughly examine the relationship between dietary calcium intake and bone health. The findings of this study will provide information that will assist with the clinical management of osteoporosis in New Zealand and elsewhere.
Funded by: Edith C Coan Trust
Dr Christopher Walker
School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland
Every New Zealander suffers from pain and for many this is an intolerable daily burden. Pain is a prevalent and underappreciated factor in the pathogenesis of many diseases and conditions, including arthritis, chronic headache, chronic lower back, and tumour induced pain. Current pain treatments have significant side-effects which prohibit long term use or simply lack the required effectiveness. It is not surprising that many patients report inadequate pain management. This is particularly troubling as new pain treatments appear to suffer from similar draw-backs. The current strategies for developing new pain treatments are inadequate. New classes of drugs, which have new mechanisms of action, are required. This project will utilize sophisticated miniaturized technologies to quantitatively explore how a pain-modulating factor acts on nerve cells at important sites for pain perception. Discovering how this factor acts will allow a new mechanism of action to be targeted and lead to a new class of pain treatments.
Funded by: David and Cassie Anderson Medical Trust
A/Prof Alan Davidson – 1514005 ($13,082)
Dept of Molecular Medicine & Pathology, University of Auckland
To spend 3 weeks at The University of Southern California in the laboratory of Professor Andrew McMahon in order to get trained in state-of-the-art CRISPR genome editing technologies.
Prof Michelle Glass – 1514007 ($36,800)
Dept of Pharmacology, University of Auckland
Fellowship in the laboratory of Dr Giovanni Marsicano, Neuroscience Magende, Inserm Institute, Bordeux, France.
Miss Jennifer Eom
School of Biological Science, University of Auckland
Tumours consist of malignant cancerous cells as well as normal cells that help the cancer cells survive and grow. As well as targeting cancer cells, modern approaches to cancer therapy are targeting these normal cells in tumours. Cells that are sometimes called Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts – or more correctly “mesenchymal cells” – are one class of these normal cells that support tumour development in a number of ways. Unfortunately, these cells remain poorly characterised. It is unclear which normal cells they originate from, and how their characteristics change in response to invasion by cancer cells. This research aims to increase our knowledge of the different types of mesenchymal cells in normal human tissues and in tissues infiltrated by the skin cancer malignant melanoma. Results will enable development of new cancer therapies that target the right types of mesenchymal cells and the molecules they use to support cancer cells.
Funded by: J.I. Sutherland Fund for Research into Melanoma
Miss Rachel Dodd
Dept of Molecular Medicine and Pathology, University of Auckland
Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) is a form of kidney injury where patients show scarring or ‘sclerosis’ of the major filtrational unit of the kidney, the glomerulus. This results in an inability to filter the blood normally. FSGS is a relatively common form of kidney injury, and onset can occur in childhood or adulthood, accounting for 5% of adult and 20% of children with end stage renal disease (ESRD) worldwide. This research project is based on preliminary work looking at the genetics of a New Zealand family with FSGS, which identified a mutation in a novel candidate gene RADIXIN (RDX), occurring only in affected individuals. RDX is expressed in mesangial cells, which are smooth muscle cells that regulate blood pressure within the glomerulus. The gene plays a key role in regulating the contractile machinery of the cell, and we therefore hypothesise that abnormal gene function could lead to abnormalities in the ability of mesangial cells to relax, resulting in increased intra-glomerular blood pressure, which has been implicated in FSGS. If confirmed, our study will be the first to demonstrate that a genetic defect in mesangial cells causes FSGS.
Funded by: Barbara Basham Medical Charitable Trust
Ms Teena Gamage
Dept of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Auckland
The placenta is a vital fetal organ essential to the nourishment and survival of the baby within the mother. Inadequate placental development in early pregnancy is often the cause of pregnancy complications including intrauterine growth restriction where due to poor placental function, the fetus does not grow properly. This condition affects approximately 5000 pregnancies each year in New Zealand. Currently there is no cure for this condition. Very little is known about early placental development and how or why the placental development and function are impaired in fetal growth restriction but problems with the growth and maturation of specialised placental cells; called trophoblasts, are likely to be a major contributing factor. We have, for the first time, isolated a population of trophoblast stem-like cells from both early and late gestation placentas. This project aims to learn how to control the growth and maturation of these stem cells. If we can control the growth/maturation of these stem cells, that raise the exciting possibility that we may finally develop a treatment to improve the growth of diseased placentas leading to improved fetal growth thus reducing burden on New Zealand’s healthcare system.
Dr Rebekah Jaung
Dept of Surgery, University of Auckland
Diverticulosis is an abnormal out-pouching of the lining of the colon, and when symptomatic is known as diverticular disease (DD). DD is becoming recognised as a chronic disease and confers a substantial financial burden on healthcare institutions. Acute diverticulitis (AD) describes the condition where inflammation occurs within a diverticulum and is a common acute surgical problem often requiring emergency surgery. The main objectives of this doctoral research are as follows: 1) To formulate a scoring system to assess severity in AD and predict need for operative intervention and increased patient support. This is intended to be a tool to help prioritise imaging and operations, especially for clinicians practising in hospitals with limited resources. 2) High resolution manometry (HRM) will be used to characterise large bowel motility in patients with DD. HRM has already provided revolutionary insights into bowel function in both normal bowel and in slow transit constipation. HRM has not been used in DD before and we hope that this project will improve our current understanding of DD. 3) A trial will be carried out to evaluate efficacy of steroid therapy in AD. This is a novel intervention for AD which we hypothesise could lead to earlier symptomatic recovery.