Otago Tb research gets $500K boost

Htin Lin Aung.
Htin Lin Aung.
University of Otago research into fighting tuberculosis, ''the world's top infectious killer'', is among many Otago projects boosted by grants from the Health Research Council.

Seventeen Otago University researchers and students received more than $2.94 million of the latest overall $8.7million HRC funding round, announced today.

Otago microbiology and immunology department researcher Dr Htin Lin Aung welcomed a $500,000 Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship.

This will enable him to continue his research on ''combating tuberculosis at local and international front lines''.

Daniel Ribeiro
Daniel Ribeiro

Dr Aung is an Otago microbiology graduate who was born in Myanmar, where about 26,000 people die from tuberculosis each year - part of the wider 1.5 million global death toll.

''Tuberculosis is a global disease and being part of the global effort to tackle this disease demonstrates New Zealand is being a good global citizen,'' he said.

New Zealand could not afford to be complacent about Tb. Given that a high proportion of the country's 300 annual cases involved people born outside New Zealand, tackling Tb ''at international front lines'' was crucial for New Zealand's efforts to control the disease.

Howard Maxwell
Howard Maxwell
The Otago research would use ''next-generation sequencing technology as a molecular weapon'' and aimed to develop rapid molecular diagnostic tools to reduce the emergence and spread of drug-resistant Tb, he said.

Howard Maxwell, also of the Otago microbiology and immunology department, received a Maori Health Research PhD Scholarship amounting to $129, 900.

Mr Maxwell warned about rapidly developing antibiotic resistance and the ''rapidly approaching'' threat of a ''post-antibiotic era where no treatment will exist against seemingly insignificant infections''.

He plans to examine the communication processes within bacteria that control the spread of antibiotic resistance genes.

Michael Pankhurst
Michael Pankhurst
Three other Otago researchers received Hercus fellowships of about $500,000.

Dr Michael Pankhurst, of anatomy, will study anti-Mullerian hormone signalling in the ovary.

Further fellowships go to Dr Daniel Ribeiro, of physiotherapy, and to Dr Hamish Jamieson, of Otago's Christchurch campus, who will seek ''new insights into heart failure''.

Other Otago awards included a $320,000 Clinical Research Training Fellowship for Dr Sharon Leitch to study ''improving patient safety in New Zealand general practice'', and to Dr Gemma Poke, of the Wellington campus.

Troy Ruhe, of physical education, sport and exercise science, was awarded a $133,550 Pacific Health Research PhD Scholarship.

Maori Health Research Summer Studentships of $5000 went to Tobias Hoeta, Tiana Mihaere and Jordan Tewhaiti-Smith.

Pacific Health Research Summer Studentships of $5000 were awarded to Louise Jansen, David Nair, Ms 'Eseta Vaipuna, Tevita Vaipuna, Sophia Dean and Theresa Fitzpatrick.


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