Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

The Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine is the professional society for geriatricians and other medical practitioners with an interest in medical care of older people. The research supported by the Society intends to foster and promote excellence in health care of older persons in Australia and New Zealand. It supports and promotes research in all aspects of ageing - service development, clinical practice and basic science. It research aim is the promotion of research into medical and related problems in older people.

Using super resolution microscopy to study the extracellular barrier to movement of fluids in the lens

Supervisors

Rosica Petrova (09 923 8728)
Paul Donaldson

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS035

Cataract or clouding of the lens is the leading cause of blindness in the world today. The only available treatment for cataract is a surgical replacement of the cataractous lens with an artificial plastic lens, a procedure that may cause post-surgical complications for the patient and places an enormous financial burden on the national health system.

Recent research from our lab have shown that cataract formation is associated with a failure of the lens internal microcirculation system, which in the absence of a blood supply delivers nutrients to and removes waste products from the deepest parts of the lens. Therefore, the aim of this summer project is to visualise the operation of the microcirculation system. This will be achieved by using super resolution imaging to resolve the penetration of fluorescent tracer molecules into the lens to observe how the changes in the extracellular space between cells directs the delivery of molecules to the central core of the lens.

Skills that will be taught in this project include:

• Fixation of the lens.
• Cryosectioning of the lens tissue.
• Labeling with specific membrane marker wheat germ agglutinin (WGA).
• Super resolution imaging that will involve using either a dSTORM or airy scan microscopy to allow visualisation of the change of extracellular space at the nm range.

Exploring medication use in the last year of life for people living in residential aged care

Supervisors

Michal Boyd (09 923 3722)
Jo Hikaka
Katherine Bloomfield
Jackie Robinson
Zhiqiang Wu
Aileen Collier
Rosemary Frey
Deborah Balmer

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS041

Almost 40% of all deaths occur in residential aged care (RAC) facilities in New Zealand (NZ). Old age palliative care is complicated by multi-morbidity and advanced frailty, however, little is known about medication use for those who die in RAC. The ELDER study conducted post-mortem surveys in RACs in NZ, and this data will be used to explore end of life medication use. Ministry of Health deidentified pharmacy data has been obtained for all 286 deaths in the ELDER sample.

The summer student will answer these research questions in collaboration with researchers: 1) what medications are used in the last months of life for people dying in RAC, 2) how does medication use correlate with observed end of life symptoms, 3) how does NZ RAC data compare to similar European data. Our previous summer students published their work in high ranking journals, and this study will also be submitted for publication.

You will gain skills in:
• Pharmacy and clinical dataset management
• Descriptive and correlation/regression statistics
• Literature review and academic writing leading to publication

Those that would suit those with an:
- interest in quantitative analysis of existing databases
- interest in honing academic writing skills
- ability to work independently

A randomised controlled trial in retirement villages: Exploring older adults experiences

Supervisors

Katherine Bloomfield (021 159 1580)
Jo Hikaka
Michal Boyd

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS052

Our research group is studying the health, social and functional needs of residents living in retirement villages (RVs). Part of this project included a randomised controlled trial (RCT, n=412) investigating the effect of a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) intervention on healthcare utilisation.
Understanding participant experiences of an intervention is an important step in the development of health services/research design.

This current study is a qualitative study conducted in a subgroup who participated in the intervention arm. The aim is to understand resident experiences of the MDT intervention which will help inform further health service/research development. Non-European participation rate in the RCT was low (<4%). Therefore, ALL non-European RCT participants will be invited into this study, with additional European RCT participants chosen randomly.

The student will conduct semi-structured interviews (in residents’ homes/over the telephone), transcribe the interviews, code the transcripts, participate in the data analysis and collaborate with researchers to draft an academic paper for journal publication.

Skills gained

- Literature review/critical appraisal
- Qualitative research methods including semi-structured interviews, data coding/analysis
- Academic writing
- Working as part of a collaborative, multi-disciplinary research group

This would suit those with

- Excellent communication skills
- The ability to undertake some self-directed work

Glutamate transporter expression in the human Alzheimer's disease brain

Supervisors

Dr Andrea Kwakowsky
Dist Prof Sir Richard Faull

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS069

Glutamate is the main excitatory brain neurotransmitter and it plays an essential role in the function and health of neurons and neuronal excitability. Altered glutamatergic signalling plays a key role in a number of pathological conditions affecting the nervous system, including Alzheimer`s disease (AD). AD is characterized by progressive loss of neurons, memory and other cognitive functions. Currently, there are still no effective treatments to prevent, delay or reverse AD.

Understanding the remodelling of the glutamatergic system in brains of people stricken by AD will help decide what type of drugs to use or design. The gradual neuronal degeneration and decreases of synaptic density in AD affected brain areas precedes increment in aberrant electrical activity. Modulation of the balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission early in AD is one of the targets of the glutamatergic drugs in the AD brain.

The aim of this project is to characterize the expression of glutamate transporters in the Alzheimer`s disease hippocampus.

We offer a stimulating and collaborative research environment. The successful candidate will join a lively community of students at the Centre for Brain Research. The ideal candidate is ambitious and highly motivated for pursuing a career in neuroscience.

Skills taught

-neural tissue collection, fixation
-combination of molecular, anatomical and imaging techniques
-data collection, analysis and presentation

Understanding GABA Signalling in the Vasculature of Healthy and Alzheimer’s Disease Brains

Supervisors

Dr Andrea Kwakowsky
Dist Prof Sir Richard Faull

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS072

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by progressive loss of neurons in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex, memory and other cognitive functions. Currently, there are still no effective treatments to prevent, delay or reverse AD. Cerebrovascular dysfunction is strongly associated with the pathogenesis of AD, often significantly preceding the onset of clinical symptoms. The inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) can regulate vascular function in the brain, controlling vasoconstriction and blood flow – however the mechanisms underlying this are poorly understood.

The aim of this project is to understand how the GABA signaling system regulates vascular function in the human brain and how this function is altered in AD.

We offer a stimulating and collaborative research environment. The successful candidate will join a lively community of students at the Centre for Brain Research. The ideal candidate is ambitious and highly motivated for pursuing a career in neuroscience.

Skills taught

- neural tissue fixation, processing
- fluorescence immunohistochemistry
- imaging techniques (light and confocal microscopy)
- data collection, analysis and presentation

Neuroinflammation in the human Cingulate Cortex in Huntington’s disease

Supervisors

Dr Andrea Kwakowsky
Dist Prof Sir Richard Faull

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS075

Huntington’s disease (HD) is an autosomal dominant neurodegenerative disease. Previous studies have reported significant neuroinflammatory changes in HD. Whether these changes are neuroprotective or are further destructive is still unclear. Similarly, the impact of neuroinflammation in controlling cellular and molecular pathways leading to cell death is not well understood. The cingulate cortex plays a vital role in learning, memory and emotion processing. Previous research in our laboratory suggests that the cingulate cortex is affected in HD.

The aim of this project is to investigate whether there is significant neuroinflammation in the cingulate cortex of human HD cases using immunohistochemistry on tissue sections of HD cases and controls.

We offer a stimulating and collaborative research environment. The successful candidate will join a lively community of students at the Centre for Brain Research. The ideal candidate is ambitious and highly motivated for pursuing a career in neuroscience.

Skills taught

-human post-mortem tissue processing
-immunohistochemistry
-light and confocal microscopy
-data collection, analysis and presentation

Optogenetic modulation of neuronal network changes in an in vivo Alzheimer's disease mouse model

Supervisors

Dr Andrea Kwakowsky
Dist Prof Sir Richard Faull

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS078

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by progressive loss of neurons, memory and other cognitive functions. Currently, there are still no effective treatments to prevent, delay or reverse AD. A feature of the pathogenesis of AD is the increased concentration of neurotoxic soluble oligomers of beta amyloid peptides. Optogenetics is the combination of genetic and optical methods. It uses light-activated ion channels (opsins) for temporal control of neuronal excitability limited to specific selected cell-types mediated by viral vectors and light stimulation that is delivered at a specific brain region; and predicted to be the next generation of deep brain stimulation technology.

The aim of this project is to design an optogenetic stimulation approach to ameliorate neuronal function and behavior in an in vivo Alzheimer`s disease mouse model.

We offer a stimulating and collaborative research environment. The successful candidate will join a lively community of students at the Centre for Brain Research. The ideal candidate is ambitious and highly motivated for pursuing a career in neuroscience.

Skills taught

-animal handling
-stereotactic brain surgery
-mouse behavioural testing
-neural tissue collection, fixation
-combination of molecular, anatomical and imaging techniques
-data collection, analysis and presentation

Prospective monitoring of men to understand their current health performances compared to characteristics collected over ten years before

Supervisors

Jesse Ashton (093737599 ext 8325)
Johanna Montgomery

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS094

Interconnecting clusters of neurons - termed ganglia - situated in fat on the surface of the heart constitute the final node in a sophisticated network that controls heart rhythm. Maladaptive changes in cardiac neuronal function are associated with development of abnormal heart rhythms in conditions of cardiovascular disease and with aging. Nerve stimulation which reverses this neuronal plasticity has emerged as a viable therapeutic strategy for treating abnormal heart rhythms. This project will help advance this treatment strategy by improving our understanding of human cardiac ganglia structure and function.

Biopsies of cardiac fat are obtained with consent from patients undergoing open heart surgery at Auckland Hospital. We then make electrophysiological recordings from neurons in intact ganglia to describe how they function and communicate, and then use microscopy to image single neurons in 3D to determine expression of proteins involved in synaptic communication. This project will involve scaling up our methods to image interconnecting ganglia and testing specific antibodies to help delineate functional classes of neurons involved in heart rhythm control. The student will develop skills in immunolabelling and 3D confocal microscopy. Preference will be given to students wishing to continue on to an Honours degree project.

The impact of Covid-19 on intergenerational social contact among people over 70

Supervisors

Professor Merryn Gott (021 246 2197)
Tessa Morgan
Dr Lisa Williams

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS133

Although the standardized prostate cancer (PCa) incidence rates are highest in New Zealand and Australia, estimates on slow growing indolent and clinically inapparent latent PCa show that the rates are comparable between countries with western lifestyle [2]. Evidence including a systematic review and meta-analysis is available for the consequences of BMI and insulin resistance in PCa and its progression [3] which are features common with the western lifestyle. Conventional methods of assessing impacts of dietary patterns in disease aetiology have used methods such as food frequency questionnaires and diet diaries.

However, with advanced mass spectrometry technology, measurement of diet-related metabolite recognition has been made possible and have been checked for the association with cancer incidence and progression. Studies have reported various dietary metabolites in association with prostate cancer, its progression and prostate cancer specific-mortality.

The current project is towards working on a literature review on the interaction of metabolic profiles, genetics and PCa. Information on metabolite intensity response with PCa as well as metabolite origins from diet should also be reviewed. The review should also include available approaches for metabolite profiling, current software used in data extraction and statistical models reported in data analysis.

You are required to assess literature based on major science databases including PubMed, Medline. You have to build up your reference library along with this literature review.

Preference will be given to someone with statistical interest and good grades in statistics. Experience in literature reviewing skills is an asset for your future academic work. Exposure to understanding data extraction and analyses methods will help you in decision making towards your future academic goals.

Please feel free to discuss further potential advantages of this opportunity with your supervisors.

Women Wellness Program after Stroke Project

Supervisors

Julia Slark (09 923 8471)
Bobbi Laing

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS149

Regeneration and healing involves generation of new tissue that includes vasculature and innervation. The role of peripheral sensory neurons that innervate healing bone is poorly defined. The periosteum, a critical source of new osteoblasts during fracture repair, is the most densely innervated bone compartment. Despite indications that sensory innervation promotes growth, maintenance and healing of bone, the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. CGRP is a strong candidate mediator of these effects. We have an established colony of CGRP knockout mice.

The goal of this project is to evaluate how CGRP affects bone healing and the signalling mechanisms associate with this. Projects could involve evaluating bone healing, innervation and vascularisation using an injury model, in knockout and wild-type mice; investigating changes in CGRP knockout periosteum in the absence of injury; in vitro investigation of CGRP signalling mechanisms in bone cells.

Techniques potentially include:

  • primary cell isolation and culture
  • real time PCR
  • western blotting
  • histology and immunostaining
  • animal surgery
  • microCT


Hands on experience in some lab techniques preferred. Students who are considering continuing with a research-based degree (Honours or Masters) are particularly encouraged to apply.

Understanding patient and whanau experiences of the clot retrieval procedure after stroke

Supervisors

Dr Marie-Claire Smith (021 0232 3351)
Professor Cathy Stinear

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS174

Clot retrieval is a new development in acute stroke care which involves removing the clot in an emergency procedure within a few hours of stroke. This procedure results in significant improvements in physical outcomes. This project will identify whether patients continue to have issues with cognition, mood or fatigue, how these are affecting their return to their usual activities, and whether these needs are being met by the current health service. Patients and whanau will be interviewed to find out about their experience of the procedure and their stroke recovery. The results will be used to develop a clinical pathway for patients who have clot retrieval.

You will be involved in transcribing and coding interview transcripts from patients and whanau after stroke. You will have the opportunity to attend home visit assessments with a research physiotherapist to observe the clinical assessment and interviews. There will also be opportunity to be involved in other aspects of the teams’ work at Auckland City Hospital, which will provide you with a broad experience of clinical neuroscience carried out in the hospital environment and in the community setting.

Skills gained

Interview transcription and coding; data processing and analysis; professional research interactions with patients.

How hard do patients work during physiotherapy for walking after stroke?

Supervisors

Dr Marie-Claire Smith (021 0232 3351)
Professor Cathy Stinear

Discipline

Australian and New Zealand Society for Geriatric Medicine

Project code: MHS176

High intensity training improves walking outcomes after stroke, however most studies have been conducted more than 6 months post-stroke when patients are quite stable. It isn’t clear what current practice is early after stroke, or whether patients and their physiotherapists would be willing to increase training intensity. It is important to understand any potential barriers before designing a large trial of high intensity training after stroke.

This pilot study is based at Auckland Hospital, and will use heart rate monitors and Fitbit step-counters to analyse how hard patients are working. Patients and physiotherapists will also be asked to estimate how hard they worked and will complete a questionnaire to identify any factors that would prevent them from working harder.

This study is an opportunity to participate in clinical research in an experienced stroke research team. This will include assisting in data collection, processing, and analysis. There will also be opportunity to be involved in other aspects of the teams’ work. This includes various projects about the recovery of movement after stroke, which will provide you with a broad experience of clinical neuroscience carried out in the hospital environment.

Skills gained

Data collection, processing and analysis; professional research interactions with patients.