Victoria researchers awarded funding from Research for Life

Seven projects from the School of Biological Sciences received grants to undertake medical research or help with travel costs.

Aiming to advance the quality of healthcare in Wellington and beyond, Research for Life funds innovative projects undertaken by researchers in the early stages of their careers.

This was the first round of Research for Life’s funding for 2018 and, in total, Victoria researchers received $59,000.

Dr Janet Pitman and Ms Sarah Sczelecki, from the Reproductive Biology group, were awarded $18,362 to improve ovarian cancer (OC) diagnosis.

OC has the highest mortality rate of all gynaecological cancers due to the lack of symptoms and screening tests. Dr Pitman’s research will explore genetic changes throughout tumour development using representative animal models. The aim of this research is to identify potential biomarkers, which could establish a pre-screening method for early detection. This has the potential to facilitate earlier diagnosis and improve OC mortality rates.

Dr Wayne Patrick received $10,000 to investigate an alternative strategy for combating antibiotic resistance.

Microbes have now evolved resistance to every available class of antibiotic. Rather than focusing on the costly development of new antibiotics, this work will manipulate an aspect of bacterial evolution, known as collateral sensitivity. Dr Patrick and his team will work to map the collateral sensitivity profiles of three resistant bacterial species. Ultimately, this may allow doctors to prescribe exactly the right antibiotic, every time.

Senior Lecturer in Medical Microbiology, Dr Joanna Mackichan, has received $15,000 to investigate a novel mechanism of bacterial inhibition in wound healing.

Neisseria meningitidis, a bacterial pathogen that is usually carried harmlessly in the upper airway tissues, can occasionally cause severe, invasive meningococcal disease. The early interactions between the bacteria and airway tissues are poorly understood. This research project will seek to explore the role of the bacterial protein in the development of meningococcal, and wound repair processes.

Lisa Denny, a PhD candidate, has received $7,647 to research new treatment options for people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease, affecting approximately 2.5 million people worldwide, with higher than average rates in New Zealand. As the cause of MS is not completely understood there is currently no cure. Finding effective treatments have been challenging, with current therapies having limited success rates. Lisa’s research will investigate new targets for an effective treatment options.

Dr Darren Day received $21, 450 to explore new ways of developing aptamers for treating bacterial infections. This cross-disciplinary approach utilises recent advances in computer science and molecular biology. Aptamers­, a type of drug that act like antibodies, have been found to be useful in biomedical applications for diagnostics and as therapeutics.

Travel grants were awarded to PhD candidate, Diana Atigari, and postdoctoral research fellow, Dr Michelle Rich, to support them to present their research at international conferences.