$24m for Otago researchers

University of Otago researcher Dr Megan Wilson displays an image of a sea squirt colony,...
University of Otago researcher Dr Megan Wilson displays an image of a sea squirt colony, magnified tenfold. Photo: Peter McIntosh
University of Otago research into the "quite spectacular" ability of sea squirts to completely regenerate their bodies could revolutionise human medicine, if we could regrow human limbs and organs.

New research into sea squirts is being led by Otago anatomy senior lecturer Dr Megan Wilson, as part of a record $24million in grants just gained by Otago University from the  Marsden Fund.

Dr Wilson, a senior lecturer in anatomy, said the human body’s ability to repair itself after injury was limited.

But some animals, including the tiny exotic sea squirt, which lives in colonies on pontoons in the Otago Harbour,  "have the amazing ability to regenerate complex anatomy, and even completely new bodies from as little as a few hundred cells", she said.

Researchers, backed by the $820,000 grant, would investigate how the sea squirt (Botrylloides leachi), could regenerate "an entire new adult version of itself" in less than  two weeks, from only a minute piece of tissue.

"Imagine the impact on human medicine, if we could regrow human limbs and organs," she said.

In the  university’s most successful Marsden round, Otago researchers gained about $24million for 33 world-class research projects —including nine "Fast Start" projects, the latter supporting outstanding early career research. Auckland University gained $19.8million, for 31 researchers and research groups, in the overall $84.6million funding round.

Prof Janet Hoek, of marketing, has received an $845,000 grant to investigate aspects of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, (Ends).

Prof Hoek will inquire if such technology, including e-cigarettes, could "dramatically reduce smoking", or could "vaping instead undermine cessation".

Prof Philippa Howden-Chapman, of Otago’s Wellington campus, gained $845,000 to study "eviction and its consequences".



Otago Fast Start grants, each $300,000: Dr Rosemary Brown, Dr Charlotte King, anatomy; Dr Aniruddha Chatterjee, pathology; Dr Amita Deb, Dr Jonathan Squire, physics; Dr Robert Fagerlund, microbiology & immunology;  Dr Adam Middleton, biochemistry; Dr Mei Peng, food science; Dr Stefanie Zollmann, computer science.

Other Otago grants include: Associate Prof Greg Anderson, anatomy, $960,000; Dr Ashton Bradley, physics, $905,000; Dr Rebecca Campbell, $960,000, Dr Karl Iremonger, $958,000; Dr Jeffrey Erickson, $937,000, Prof Brian Hyland, $959,000, all physiology; Prof Stephen Cranefield, information science, $460,000; Associate Prof Peter Fineran, microbiology & immunology, $945,000; Prof Sally McCormick, biochemistry, $957,000;  Prof Mark Hampton, Christchurch campus, $959,000;  Dr Michael Knapp, anatomy, $920,000; Prof David Larsen, $910,000, Associate Prof Claudine Stirling, $960,000, both chemistry; Associate Prof Richard Macknight, biochemistry, $895,000; Associate Prof Karen Nairn, College of Education, $840,000; Prof Robert Poulin, zoology, $890,000; Prof David Prior, geology, $960,000; Dr Bruce Russell, microbiology & immunology, $960,000; Dr Harold Schwefel, physics, $910,000; Dr Catherine Smith, Centre for Materials Science and Technology, $845,000;  Associate Prof Rachel Zajac, psychology, $695,000.

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