Heart Foundation

The Heart Foundation wants hearts fit for life. To ensure this happens, its mission is to stop all people in New Zealand dying prematurely from heart disease and enable people with heart disease to live full lives. With more than 186,000 people in New Zealand living with heart disease, they intend to continue to fund life-saving heart research and maintain our vital work in local communities. To achieve this vision they have three goals - enable people to make heart healthy choices; better outcomes for people and whānau impacted by heart disease; fund New Zealand heart research and training.

Dietary intake after bariatric surgery for morbid obesity and type 2 diabetes

Supervisor

Lindsay Plank
Rinki Murphy (923 6313)
Michael Booth

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS136

Aims

We wish to compare dietary data from patients who have received either sleeve gastrectomy (SG) or Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYGB) bariatric surgery for obesity and type 2 diabetes, to see whether dietary components differ by surgery type, alters over time, and whether certain components such as sugar or protein intake is associated with weight, body composition changes and remission of Type 2 diabetes. We also wish to see how dietary intake among our NZ patients compares with recommended international nutritional guidelines for bariatric surgery patients.

A total of 114 patients have taken part in a randomized clinical trial comparing RYGB with SG surgery for the treatment of morbid obesity and type 2 diabetes. Of those, 65 patients have taken part in a detailed sub-study which included providing 7 day food diaries pre-op, and at 1 and 5 years post-op, along with body composition assessment using DEXA scan, satiety and hunger questionnaires, fasting blood tests, and OGTT. The 5 year data collection is expected to be completed by October 2019.

Responsibilities

  • To enter dietary data into Foodworks software to code protein, fat, carbohydrate, fibre and estimated total caloric intake.
  • To complete the entry of non-dietary data including resting energy expenditure measurements, body composition, hunger and appetite scores and biochemical measurements such as Vit D, iron, B12, HbA1c, into the study database
  • To conduct statistical analyses to answer study questions
  • Contribute to draft manuscript preparation

Ideal project for students keen to gain more understanding of physiological changes after bariatric surgery. There is a potential for this research findings to inform national guidelines for better post-operative nutritional support for bariatric patients. 

Referrals for bariatric surgery

Supervisor

Rinki Murphy (923 6313)
Grant Beban
Nick Evenett
Michael Booth

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS137

Aims

To examine the distribution, volume, demographics and comorbidities of patients referred from primary and secondary care for public funded bariatric surgery in the Auckland region over the past 3 years, relative to those accepted and proceeding to surgery.

While approximately 250 annual bariatric surgery procedures are performed at the three public hospitals in Auckland, there are over 50,000 morbidly obese adults residing in these regions. Numbers referred relative to numbers accepted and proceeding with bariatric surgery are only around 5:1, rather than 200:1. Understanding why there are relative low referral rates and whether there are only small hotspots of referrers located in primary and secondary care, is important to ensure equitable access to bariatric surgery.

The rarity with which some GP's refer for bariatric surgery, may reflect their reluctance to discuss this potential treatment option with their patients and may mean that further training is necessary to ensure all such clinicians have sufficient knowledge and confidence to discuss these treatment with patients and to ensure this does not reflect implicit health care rationing, particularly by ethnicity. The first step is to compare the characteristics of the population who are referred and where they are referred from, compared to those who are actually accepted for bariatric surgery and those who are potentially eligible. This information will assist in developing processes to ensure equitable access to bariatric surgery and more transparent prioritization pathways.

Responsibilities

  • Work with multidisciplinary bariatric surgery teams at Auckland DHB's to access data on bariatric surgery referrals vs accepted populations.
  • Design excel spreadsheet to record data and enter data.
  • Conduct statistical analyses to answer study questions
  • Contribute to draft manuscript preparation.

Immunogenicity of Decellularised Heart Valves: Development of a Surgical Model in Rats

Supervisor

Dr Steve Waqanivavalagi (027 341 4202)
Professor Jillian Cornish
Mr Paget Milsom

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS138

Background

Prostheses for valve replacement surgery have each faced some limitation precluding their routine clinical-use. Thus, decellularised heart valves have been investigated as an alternative product.

Decellularised heart valves are created from tissues of animal origin, such as pericardium or valvular leaflets, which are subjected to a chemical treatment protocol to remove the genetic material of the donor animal. This protocol leaves behind a connective tissue scaffold that can be either directly implanted as a valvular conduit or first reseeded with living cells to facilitate conduit growth, repair and remodelling after implantation.

We are conducting a project in which we are tissue engineering a novel decellularised heart valve. A component of this project involves examining the immunogenicity of the product using a live animal model.

Project

The project will commence by conducting a systematic review of the literature. Animal handling and surgical skills will be learnt using rat cadavers and then employed to develop a subcutaneous rat model with which analyses of conduit immunogenicity can be conducted in future. It is anticipated that the work will culminate in the submission of at least one publication for peer-review.

Skills

  • Systematic review
  • Academic writing
  • Valvular anatomy
  • Animal handling
  • Surgical instrumentation
  • Surgical skills

Novel mechanisms of diabetic heart disease

Supervisor

Kim Mellor (ext 83028)
Lorna Daniels

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS144

Heart disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in diabetic patients. In diabetes, cardiac complications are evident even in the absence of vascular abnormalities and represent a primary manifestation of the disease. Understanding the mechanisms of cardiac pathology in diabetes is important for the development of new targeted treatment therapies. We have recently reported that a particular type of programmed cell death, autophagy, is upregulated in diabetic hearts but an understanding of how autophagy contributes to cardiac pathology in diabetes is lacking. Preliminary evidence suggests that the disturbed balance of systemic glucose, fructose and insulin levels in diabetes modifies key signaling pathways involved in autophagy induction. This project aims to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying heart dysfunction in diabetes.

A systematic review of the impact of Climate change and Food Security in Pacific Islands Countries and Territories

Supervisor

Associate Professor Vili Nosa (ext 86906)

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS145

Aim

To examine the impact of Climate change and Food Security in Pacific Islands Countries and Territories.

Skills that will be taught to the student

  • Searching data bases and research articles
  • Analysing relevant literature
  • Report writing
  • Developing a peer reviewed article for publication

A review of Non-communicable diseases in Niue

Supervisor

Associate Professor Vili Nosa (ext 86906)

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS146

The aim of this project is a review about Non-communicable diseases in Niue.

Skills that will be taught to the student

  • Searching data bases and research articles
  • Analysing relevant literature
  • Report writing
  • Developing a peer reviewed article for publication.  

Nanoscale fibrosis and intracellular remodelling of cardiac myocytes in heart failure

Supervisor

David Crossman (ext 89964)

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS147

Heart failure is the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to supply the body’s energetic demands. A notable pathological feature of the failing heart is fibrosis, where excessive production of proteins, including collagen, fills the extra-cellular matrix (ECM). The ECM can be thought of as flexible scaffold that organises the cardiac myocytes into functional pump. At a macroscopic level fibrosis leads to both impaired relaxation and impaired contraction. However, limited data exists on the organisation of collagen at the nanoscale. Recent data from the Cardiac Nanobiology Group demonstrates excessive production of the rarely studied type VI collagen appears to disrupt nanoscale intracellular organisation of the calcium signally apparatus that controls contraction.

In this project you will use cutting edge super-resolution microscopy to characterise fibrosis and myocyte remodelling at the nanoscale. This will provide new insight on the structural changes that drive heart failure.

Infant and toddler feeding policies and promotion in early childhood education centres

Supervisor

Dr Sarah Gerritsen (022 050 1700)

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS152

Over 40,000 infants and toddlers (under 2 year olds) attend licensed early childhood education services, on average 20 hours a week. In the past 15 years, enrolments have increased from 10% to 17% of under 1 year olds, and from 30% to nearly 50% of 1 year olds. There is little guidance for early childhood education services regarding nutrition for this age group and the regulations are sparse. Regulation HS19 states that “Food is served at appropriate times to meet the nutritional needs of each child while they are attending. Where food is provided by the service, it is of sufficient variety, quantity, and quality to meet these needs. Where food is provided by parents, the service encourages and promotes healthy eating guidelines.” It is unclear if services are meeting the nutritional needs of infants and toddlers specifically, and what activities are undertaken by services to promote breastfeeding, appropriate formula/other milk use, introduction to solids and healthy eating behaviours. This project will develop a questionnaire for use in a future study, which could become the basis of an Honours or Masters research project if the student would like to continue in this area.

Aims of the project

  • Conduct a literature review of international best policy and practice, including monitoring, of infant and toddler nutrition in early learning services 
  • Construct a survey tool for collection of data in NZ regarding infant and toddler nutrition in early learning services

Skills to be developed during the summer

  • literature searching and review
  • academic writing for publication
  • quantitative questionnaire
  • survey design

An immunotherapeutic approach to promote learning and memory in ageing

Supervisor

Deborah Young (923 4491)

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS160

N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors play a central role in brain development and function and contributes to the pathogenesis of many neurological diseases. We have developed an antibody-based strategy for selectively amplifying the activation of NMDA receptor-mediated signaling pathways that promote neuronal survival and learning and memory. An immunotherapy that has both cognitive-enhancing and neuroprotective properties would have broad therapeutic utility against a broad range of neurological disorders in humans.

We are currently testing the therapeutic effectiveness of our immunotherapy to determine whether our therapy can prevent the decline in learning and memory function that occurs in aged mice.

This summer studentship project will involve biochemical and molecular analyses of the brains of treated aged and adult mice to examine the effect of the treatment on NMDA receptor expression and downstream signalling molecules.

Skills taught

  • Tissue processing
  • western blotting and/or ELISA
  • Digital drop or real time qPCR approaches may also be used for this project

Skills required

Students with some previous lab experience are preferred. This project may be suitable for a student looking to go on to do an Hons or Masters project. 

Assessing vascular function in the development of cardiovascular function

Supervisor

Carolyn Barrett (923 6909)

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS162

As we age vascular function tends to deteriorate, which in turn increases the risk of cardiac disease and strokes. This project will look at how vascular function changes during the development of heart failure. This study will use a rat model of heart failure, and repeated ultrasounds will be used to assess blood flow changes to the kidney over time, and determine the responsiveness of the vasculature in response to hypercapnia/hypoxia. The first step in this project will be to establish reliable methodology. Once the methodology is established we will then examine potential options to alter the progression of the changes in function.

This project will introduce the student to a number of experimental techniques in a rat model. Preference will be given to students who want to continue on with an Honours or a Masters project.

Skills taught and mentored during this studentship include

  • Literature review writing skills
  • Basic surgical and ultrasound skills
  • Collection of physiological data
  • Analysis of data
  • Oral presentation skills

Colonisation with streptococcus pyogenes in New Zealand children: Evidence from Growing Up in New Zealand

Supervisor

Caroline Walker (ext 88592)

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS166

Growing Up in New Zealand is a longitudinal study that provides a contemporary, population-relevant picture of what it is like to be a child growing up in New Zealand in the 21st century. Participants (n=6853) were recruited before birth through their pregnant mothers, with 6156 children participating in the 4 year interview. Throat swabs were collected and microbiological analyses conducted to determine staphylococcus aureus and streptococcus pyogenes colonisation when the children were four and eight years of age.

The aim of this project is to explore environmental factors associated with bacterial colonisation and how colonisation is related to child health outcomes. This will be achieved through quantitative analysis of questionnaire and microbiological data collected from the children.

Skills taught

This project will provide an opportunity for a student interested in population health or child health to learn independent research skills, including:

  • Literature review
  • Data analysis
  • Presentation of results and communication of research findings

The project would most suit a third year student, especially someone interested in continuing with an honours project. Second year students will also be considered. Skills required are enthusiasm and initiative, an ability to communicate, and independence, combined with a genuine interest in research and a demonstrated ability to work in a team environment.

To better understand the underlying mechanism of extracellular vesicles extruding from placenta during pregnancy

Supervisor

Qi Chen (923 5645)
Larry Chamley

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS170

There is rapidly growing interest in extracellular vesicles (EVs) and their potential role in biology and medicine. The EVs produced by most cells/tissues are separated by size into nano-vesicles (including exosomes), micro-vesicles and macro-vesicles. During pregnancy, large quantities of placental EVs are extruded from syncytiotrophoblast into the maternal circulation. These EVs contain proteins and nucleic acids and could contribute to the mal-adaptation of maternal immune and vascular systems to pregnancy. A large number studies have shown that in the pathological conditions, placental EVs contain increased danger signals and vasoactive substances. Our previous studies showed that mitochondria and caspase pathway are involved in this process. However, the underlying mechanism of this process has not been well investigated. Therefore in this study, we aim to investigate how caspase pathway, in particular caspase 8 is involved in placental EVs extruding from placental syncytiotrophoblast.

The aims of this project are to investigate (1) blocking caspase 8 pathway could affect the nature of placental function by measuring endoplasmic reticulum stress, total MLKL levels and the concentration of placental EVs that are extruded from first trimester placenta in both physiological and pathological conditions. (2) Whether other potential molecules are also co-ordinated with caspase 8.

Skills

  • Cell and tissue culture
  • Western blotting
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • General laboratory skill

Dietary diversity and its relationship with nutritional status among children in New Zealand: Evidence from Growing Up in New Zealand

Supervisor

Carin Napier (923 7547)

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS180

Growing Up in New Zealand is a longitudinal study that provides a contemporary, population-relevant picture of what it is like to be a child growing up in New Zealand in the 21st century. Participants (n=6853) were recruited before birth through their pregnant mothers, with 6156 children participating in the 4 year interview. The 8 year data collection wave included eating patterns and food behavior as an indicator of dietary diversity.

The aim of this project is to explore the eating patterns of the children and how their dietary diversity is related to their nutritional status. This will be achieved through quantitative analysis of questionnaire data collected from the children.

Skills taught

This project will provide an opportunity for a student interested in population health or child health to learn independent research skills, including:

  • Literature review
  • Data analysis
  • Presentation of results and communication of research findings

The project would most suit a third year student, especially someone interested in continuing with an honours project. Second year students will also be considered. Skills required are enthusiasm and initiative, an ability to communicate, and independence, combined with a genuine interest in research and a demonstrated ability to work in a team environment.

Risk communication in cardiovascular disease

Supervisor

Dr Amy Chan (ext 85524)
Dr Jeff Harrison

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS182

How health risk is communicated can influence patient behaviour. One key example is the communication of cardiovascular risk. Good risk prediction models exist which can calculate an individual’s 5-year cardiovascular risk, yet many of the risk factors involve lifestyle and behaviour changes, or starting new treatment(s). The results of the risk models are commonly communicated as risk percentages, or via graphical formats, which people may find difficult to understand. How we can best communicate this risk to elicit behaviour change is not yet known, particularly in Maori and people from other high-risk ethnicity groups.

This project aims to compare the effect of using infographics versus ‘heart age’ versus the standard NZ Primary Prevention Equation and Your Heart Forecast output to communicate risk, and how this influences risk comprehension.

The study will recruit participants of varying ages, ethnicities and risk and randomly assign participants to one of three risk presentations. Participants will be asked to explain their perception of risk, and complete questions on risk perception and worry, behavioural intentions, and information evaluation after exposure to one of the three conditions.

Skills required

  • Good time management
  • Project management skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication skills – oral and written

Is there a change in in weight status of caregivers 5 years post baseline in a family-centred intervention for children and adolescents with weight issues?

Supervisor

Dr Yvonne Anderson (06 753 6139 ext 8736)
Tami Cave
Cervantée Wild

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS187

Whanau Pakari is a multi-disciplinary assessment and intervention programme for children and adolescents with weight issues that commenced in Taranaki in 2012.1 As part of the assessment process, voluntary height and weight measurements of the primary caregiver of the children were collected at the baseline, 12 month, 24 month and 60 month (5 year) assessments. BMI was subsequently calculated.

The aim of this secondary analysis is to determine whether there was a change in accompanying adult BMI over time in participants of the Whanau Pakari programme (from baseline to 60/12). Secondly, whether any change affected BMI SDS outcome of participants in the trial. A literature review is also proposed looking at what is currently published with regards to the accompanying adult BMI of children/adolescents with obesity at long term follow up, both nationally and internationally.

This project would be ideally suited to a candidate who is interested in learning about and gaining skills in health research. A supportive team environment is provided, and the ideal candidate would be based in Taranaki for the duration of this project.

Whilst full supervision will be provided, the ideal candidate would be self-motivated, with a willingness to learn. Basic word and excel skills essential.

Grip strength and cardiovascular disease in older adults

Supervisor

Ruth Teh (930 7517)

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS188

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of mortality in New Zealand. Conventional risk factors for CVD are age, male gender, cigarette smoking, diabetes, hypertension, total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels. These risk factors were identified from a younger population and current CVD risk assessment is predictive of 5-year CVD risk for adults up to age 75. Clinical utility of the current CVD risk assessment for adults 75+ is remain unclear. Findings suggest adults living to advanced age (80+) have a different CVD risk factor profile. The aims of this summer studentship is to determine the prevalence and incidence of CVD in the very old and examine the association between grip strength and CVD in this age group.

This project will suit someone who are interested in cardiovascular health and takes pride in his/her meticulous work.

Skills taught

  • Literature Review
  • Data analysis
  • Report writing and preparing a paper for publication

Sugars versus sweeteners: Analysis of ingredients used to replace sugar in reformulated packaged foods

Supervisor

Leanne Young (027 341 4202)
Cliona Ni Mhurchu

Discipline

Heart Foundation

Project code: MHS190

Reformulation of the ingredients in packaged foods has potential to improve the nutritional quality of foods and population diets. Consuming foods low in added sugar is recommended as part of a healthy eating pattern associated with lower risk of diet-related disease. As an added ingredient, sugar has many different forms including glucose syrup, sucrose, honey, and fructose and is found naturally in some foods. Approximately one third of packaged foods in NZ contain some form of added sugar.

This project aims to investigate the effect of reformulation on the sugar and sweetener content of NZ packaged food products. The first objective is to identify and report on the number and category of food and beverage products in the Nutritrack database where added sugar content has decreased over time. Methods will involve examination of low-sugar claims on products and review of ingredient lists and Nutrition Information Panel data. The second objective is to investigate the types of ingredients used to replace added sugar in reformulated foods and beverages, especially replacement of added sugar with non-nutritive sweeteners, and the effect on overall product nutrient profile.

Research skills

  • Literature searching
  • Development of nutrition knowledge and skills in food composition and labelling
  • Data analysis and reporting