Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Kate Edger was the first woman in New Zealand to obtain a university degree (in 1877) and the first woman in the British Empire to gain a BA degree. She believed that the highest aim of education should be to develop the character of each individual ''as perfectly as possible so that she may be ready to live her own life as fully as possible and contribute to the community as much as it is possible for her to contribute." The main purpose of the Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust is to provide funds for the promotion, advancement and encouragement amongst women of education, including in the sphere of research.

Medical Students and Graduates’ Career Intention in Psychiatry

Supervisor

Dr Yan Chen (923 1741)
Associate Professor Marcus Henning
Associate Professor Craig Webster

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS135

The Ministry of Health has projected a workforce shortage in mental health service for the next decade, compounded by high levels of work-related stress and burnout experienced by the workforce. It is vital to understand how to select, train, and sustain a specialist medical workforce to meet the rising demand for mental health services.

In this project, we will use the Medical Schools Outcomes Database and Longitudinal Tracking Project’s (MSOD) surveys to track medical students’ and graduates’ preference for psychiatry as a specialist discipline. The project aims to 1) examine the trends in students’ and early postgraduate doctors’ preference for practising psychiatry and 2) explore the characteristics and reasons associated with respondents’ career preference.

Survey data have been collected and are available for further analysis. The successful candidate is expected to review and synthesize relevant literature in the first few weeks of the studentship and spend the remaining studentship linking survey data and conducting statistical analysis.

Skills learnt

  • Literature review and critical appraisal
  • Statistical analysis
  • Oral and written presentation skills

A novel application of the Mimopath technology in recombinant protein purification

Supervisor

Catherine Tsai (ext 82350)
Jacelyn Loh
Thomas Proft

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS148

Mimopath technology was developed as a display system that allows high efficient immobilisation of heterologous proteins on bacterial surfaces, in applications such as mucosal vaccines where genetically modified bacteria is less desirable. The technology utilises the binding domain of the Lactococcus lactis peptidoglycan hydrolase AcmA, which exhibits high affinity to the bacterial peptidoglycan. We proposed that this protein anchor (PA) domain can be used as a protein tag that is fused to a recombinant protein. Heat and acid treated L. lactis cells, also known as bacteria-like particles (BLPs), can be used to purify PA fusion proteins.

This project will explore the construct design of a PA tag protein expression vector, and optimise the procedures of this novel purification method. The efficiency of this system will be compared to conventional affinity protein purification techniques, such as the GST tag or poly Histidine (6xHis) tag. It is expected that this novel application of the Mimopath technology will offer a simple, fast and economical method for recombinant protein purification, which is an essential part for both basic scientific research and biomedical applications.

Skills

  • Molecular cloning
  • recombinant protein expression and purification
  • microbiology techniques
  • protein analysis techniques such as electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE)

The student will be based at the Infection and Immunity Lab of the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology, University of Auckland.

1. A systematic or Integrative review ‘Health promotion strategies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome’

Supervisor

Dr Bobbi Laing (923 8418)
Dr Julia Slark

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS150

Choose the methodology of a systematic or Integrative review. Use a clear and precise search and selection criteria which is described clearly so that another researcher can duplicate the searches and the study selection. From this review (a) analyse and compare articles, identify themes and determine gaps in the current research, and draw conclusions. (b) Where applicable identify evidence based practice and describe how this can be incorporated into clinical practice.

Teaching and learning pelvic examination skills in Gynaecology Teaching Associates Programme: the views of medical educators, patient volunteers and Year 5 medical students

Supervisor

Phillipa Malpas (021 179 6510)
Joy Marriott

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS156

Overview: At graduation it is expected that medical students will have learnt the necessary technical and communication skills to perform female pelvic examinations. A number of challenges exist for students, including anxiety (not wanting to hurt the patient, making mistakes), male gender (dealing with the intimate), lack of confidence, and the difficulty of the examination. The University of Auckland runs a Gynaecology Teaching Associates Programme (GTA) in the Year 5 OG attachment, which provides dedicated teaching time with the assistance of patient volunteers (professional patient educators).

This project aims to evaluate the personal experiences of Year 5 MbChB students, medical educators and patient volunteers, to establish a broader understanding of how sensitive examinations are leant and taught.
Using one-on-one interviews we will explore the experiences of medical students, medical educators and patient volunteers. Thematic analysis of transcribed interviews will be performed (with assistance from the project supervisors).

Skills you will learn

  • Understanding the process of learning and teaching in the clinical environment
  • development of communication/interviewing skills
  • development of qualitative research and writing skills

This project is ideal for a student with an interest in medical education who wants to have an impact on teaching and learning in the clinical environment.

Partners in Crime or Innocent Bystanders? Functional Implications of Putative Cannabinoid Receptor 2 Interacting Proteins

Supervisor

Natasha Grimsey

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS158

Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2) is a G Protein-Coupled Receptor (GPCR) expressed primarily in the immune system and CB2-targeted drugs are promising therapeutic leads in a wide range of disorders involving immune system dysregulation, including multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disorders, atherosclerosis, stroke and inflammatory bowel disease.

While traditionally thought of as distinct functional units, it is now well recognised that GPCRs can interact with multiple different proteins which may influence their function – either by altering their subcellular distribution and expression level, or by modulating their conformational states and thereby their signalling properties. Further understanding of these interactions is critical to research on receptor function, as well as being highly illuminating in prospective therapeutic design. Importantly, differential expression of such interaction partners is a means for a receptor to have different effects between cell types, and dysregulation of interaction partners may result in disease.

This project will investigate a set of proteins that have been suggested (in the literature or in our pilot experiments) to interact with CB2. We will utilise over-expression and/or knockdown to determine the effects of these putative interacting proteins on CB2 subcellular localisation and signalling.

There are opportunities for continued study at Honours, Masters, and PhD level.
Profile: Natasha Grimsey

Signalling in Space and Time: Exploring Spatio-Temporal Factors in Cannabinoid Receptor 2 Signalling Bias

Supervisor

Natasha Grimsey

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS159

Cannabinoid Receptor 2 (CB2) is a G Protein-Coupled Receptor (GPCR) expressed primarily in the immune system and CB2-targeted drugs are promising therapeutic leads in a wide range of disorders involving immune system dysregulation, including multiple sclerosis, autoimmune disorders, atherosclerosis, stroke and inflammatory bowel disease.

We are particularly interested in studying functional selectivity, wherein a single GPCR has the potential to mediate the activation or inactivation of diverse signalling pathways and each molecule that interacts with the receptor has the potential to induce a unique ‘fingerprint’ of signalling events within the cell and thereby induce different functional consequences. An emerging concept in functional selectivity is that of spatio-temporal modulation, wherein the location of the receptor and/or induced signal may give rise to unique downstream effects.

This project will investigate the spatio-temporal signalling profiles of a selection of CB2 ligands which have been suggested to give rise to distinct signalling and/or functional profiles. We will utilise cutting-edge signalling pathway biosensors that allow real time measurements of signalling in specific subcellular locations.

There are opportunities for continued study at Honours, Masters, and PhD level.
Profile: Natasha Grimsey

Soundscape assessment

Supervisor

David Welch (923 8404)
Ravi Reddy
Kim Dirks

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS168

We have developed a short (17-item) questionnaire that assesses the soundscape: a person's perceptual experience of the sound environment. For work with the general public, an even shorter questionnaire may be useful. This work would test a short form of the soundscape questionnaire in a range of environments around Auckland City, including parks, busy streets, and places such as pedestrian malls which are dominated by the sound of other people. We will assess the extent to which the questionnaire is able to differentiate between soundscapes and compare findings to our full-scale questionnaire

Mental health and wellbeing education in schools

Supervisor

Hiran Thabrew (021 402 055)

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS171

Children and young people in New Zealand receive varying degrees of mental health/wellbeing education and preventative interventions at primary and high school. However, the evidence base regarding the most appropriate school-based interventions that should be delivered by schools is currently unclear.

This summer student project involves conducting a systematic review of the literature to identify evidence-based school-based mental health interventions that could inform more coherently delivered mental health education in schools.

The successful student would be guided to conduct such a review and summarise the results. They would also be listed as an author on the resulting paper.

As most of the activity on this project will be conducted online or on a computer, the student would be able to undertake most of the required work in a flexible manner, either within the university or elsewhere, allowing for some vacation time over the Christmas period.

Complementing this project will be a national survey or qualitative study of school-based health practitioners. Both pieces of research will hopefully inform the development of new mental health/wellbeing resources for schools.

Selenium and interacting mineral profiles in reducing prostate cancer risk in New Zealand

Supervisor

Nishi Karunasinghe (ext 84609)
Nicholas Demarais
Stuart Morrow

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS172

Prostate cancer is the most commonly registered male non-skin cancer in New Zealand with 3129 and 3383 cases recorded in 2013 and 2016 respectively; while being the third most common cause of cancer deaths [647 deaths in 2013]. According to the estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the age standardised global incidence rates of prostate cancer is highest in New Zealand and Australia. The excess cost of all prevalent cases of prostate cancer in New Zealand in 2010-2011 period was NZ$ 48.6M and approximate cost per individual diagnosed case was NZ$16,000. Therefore prostate cancer incidence in New Zealand carries a significant public health burden.

Meanwhile, New Zealand soils are notorious for low selenium levels, and New Zealand men both with and without prostate cancer carry lower levels of serum selenium levels compared to both African American men as well as European American men. However, there is contradictory evidence on the benefit of selenium supplementation for prostate cancer prevention. We have a cohort of men who took part in a selenium supplementation trial in New Zealand, and provided blood samples at both baseline and at six month time points towards biomarker assays. This study has already indicated that selenium supplementation benefits vary by age, BMI, dietary factors, heath status, standing levels of DNA damage and genetics. It will be a great leap if we can stratify New Zealand men to reduce their prostate cancer risk by adjusting their circulating selenium levels.

Meanwhile, it is also known that the major selenoenzyme, the glutathione peroxidase 1 to function, there should be other factors in the oxidation-reduction pathway in place. These include the Cu Zn Superoxide dismutase (SOD1) and Mn Superoxide dismutase (SOD2) and the haem containing enzyme catalase. For the selenoenzyme iodothyronine deiodinase to function, there should be accompanying support from iodine levels. Therefore, it is important to understand the levels of Cu, Zn, Mn, I and Fe alongside levels of Se to understand interactive benefits of these minerals in managing oxidation-reduction pathways. Meanwhile, evidence from animal studies indicate that supplemented Se can cause changes in other mineral levels.

The current assessment is therefore towards

  • Understanding changes taking place in plasma levels of Se, Cu, Zn, Mn, I and Fe before and after men were supplemented with 200 micro grams of Se per day for six months.
  • Understanding whether their naturally available levels of these minerals at baseline can be predictive of prospective cancer status.
  • Whether the above goals have an association with genotype data (already available for these men).

The main laboratory technique used in this analysis is the Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS), based at the School of Biological Sciences.

This is an opportunity to study real-life participant samples and to analyse the mineral profile outcomes with other meta-data already available for this cohort. Mass-Spectrometry based analyses are of immense value and increasingly being used in medical, nutritional and health sciences. Exposure to the laboratory techniques and data analyses skills will help you in advancing your academic career and in decision making towards your future academic goals.

The selected applicant should be someone who enjoys laboratory techniques, has attention to detail, responsible and persevering.

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

Health seeking and unmet need for New Zealand children: Identifying the barriers and contributing factors

Supervisor

Fiona Langridge (021 242 4362)

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS177

Growing up in New Zealand has followed approximately 7,000 children during their mothers’ late pregnancy and, so far, up to eight years of age. This longitudinal study aims to understand the needs, life trajectories, developmental experience and aspirations of our participants and their families in New Zealand today.

Unmet need and health seeking influence whether children do or do not access health care. Understanding and identifying the determinants contributing to those children experiencing barriers to care is essential in order to ensure equitable access to services.

The aim of this summer project is to explore the factors affecting health seeking and unmet need for New Zealand children within the context of the Growing Up in New Zealand study. This will be achieved through quantitative analysis of questionnaire data collected during mother’s pregnancy up to when the children were four years old.

Applications from students with an interest in Maori, Pacific and Asian themes are especially welcome.

This project will provide an opportunity for a student interested in population health or child development to learn independent research skills, including literature review, data analysis, presentation of results, and communication of research findings. Skills required include communication, initiative, independence and an ability to work well within a team. 

Lens fibre cells and epithelial cells: how does lens develop transparency?

Supervisor

Haruna Suzuki-Kerr (923 8728)
Julie Lim

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS178

The ocular lens of the eye is a remarkable tissue in that it is able to maintain its transparency over many decades of life. This is due to the highly structured cellular architecture of the lens comprised of cuboidal lens epithelial cells and elongated fibre cells. Lens fibre cells are derived from epithelial cells through processes of proliferation and differentiation. Numerous studies published from our laboratory have shown that differential expression and trafficking of proteins in epithelial cells and mature fibre cells are critical for maintaining the lens transparency.

Lens epithelial cells can be cultured and induced to differentiate into fibre cells in vitro. This project aims to establish a new experimental protocol for culturing rodent lens epithelial cells as a platform for manipulating gene expression in these cells and monitoring them live. The participating student will prepare rodent lens epithelial cell explant culture, transfect with fluorescent fusion proteins and monitor expression and trafficking of proteins.

The successful applicant should have a basic background in biology and physiology. Interest in postgraduate research programmes will be preferable, but not essential.

Skills the student will learn

  • Tissue dissection and culturing
  • DNA transfection
  • Fluorescent and Confocal microscopy
  • Image analysis and scientific report writing

Novel insight into the development of hearing organ

Supervisor

Haruna Suzuki-Kerr (923 8728)
Professor Peter R Thorne

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS179

Our sense of hearing starts in an inner ear organ called the cochlea containing ciliated hair cells, supporting cells and neurons. Hair cells are primary auditory sensory cells and their death results in sensorineuronal deafness. In addition to hair cells, there are eight different types of supporting cells arranged in highly ordered architecture within the cochlear sensory epithelium. While these supporting cells are emerging as key players in cochlear pathology, much remains unclear about their precise roles, development and how they respond in early phases of neurotoxic injuries.

Previous studies in our laboratory have found transient expression of a group of purinergic receptors in supporting cells during development, but the reason is not known. To investigate this further, this project aims to identify different types of supporting cells in developing cochlea, and characterise purinergic receptor expression in each cell type. Participating student will be conducting hands-on laboratory work from dissection of rodent cochlea, immunohistochemistry and microscopy.

The successful applicant should have a basic background in biology and physiology. Interest in postgraduate research programmes will be preferable, but not essential.

Skills the student will learn

  • Fluorescent microscopy
  • tissue dissection
  • immunohistochemistry
  • confocal microscopy
  • image analysis
  • scientific report writing

Risk communication in cardiovascular disease

Supervisor

Dr Amy Chan (ext 85524)
Dr Jeff Harrison

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

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

Beliefs about antibiotics – an interview study in Maori

Supervisor

Dr Amy Chan (ext 85524)
Assoc Prof Matire Harwood

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS183

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the biggest public health threats. Inappropriate use of antibiotics is a key driver of AMR. One reason for inappropriate use is patient expectation and demand for antibiotics, particularly where antibiotics are not needed, such as for cold/flu.

In Maori, antibiotic use may be particularly high for conditions where antibiotics are of no benefit (e.g. cold/flu), but low for conditions where antibiotics are needed (e.g. strep throat). This may be driven by individual treatment beliefs, but we do not know what beliefs influence antibiotic use in Maori, and how these beliefs may differ to non-Maori.

Identifying and understanding the beliefs that Maori hold about antibiotics and how these influence patients' decisions to seek antibiotics (or not) is key to informing the design of effective interventions to ensure appropriate antibiotic use.
The aim of this project is to identify the beliefs Maori hold about antibiotics and their role in treating infections commonly seen in primary care. We will do this by 1:1 and focus group interviews with Maori recruited from a GP practice.

Useful skills

  • Knowledge of Kaupapa Maori research
  • Understanding of primary care
  • Interpersonal skills – particularly verbal/ interview skills
  • Organisational skills

How do you eat an aggregate? One bite at a time

Supervisor

Emma Scotter (923 1350)

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

Project code: MHS189

Motor neuron disease is a fatal and incurable movement disorder affecting ~1 in 15,000 New Zealanders. The brain tissue of people with motor neuron disease harbours aggregated proteins, the formation of which is likely to be neurotoxic. This project seeks to use cultured cells expressing mutant versions of these aggregating proteins, together with small interfering RNAs, to test the molecular requirements for protein aggregation and disposal. By determining how protein aggregation is seeded and reversed in motor neuron disease, we hope to determine an upstream therapeutic target for sidestepping the protein aggregation process.

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

Supervisor

Leanne Young (027 341 4202)
Cliona Ni Mhurchu

Discipline

Kate Edger Educational Charitable Trust

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