Liggins Institute

Early life events, obesity risk and other health outcomes in childhood


Dr José Derraik
Prof Wayne Cutfield
A/P Fredrik Ahlsson


Liggins Institute

Project code: MHS101

As part of a collaboration with Uppsala University in Sweden, we are working on data collected on approximately 57,000 mothers and their children who were born in Uppsala between 2000 and 2015. Extensive clinical information has been collected on the mothers throughout pregnancy, with a number of clinical assessments done on the children in the first years of life.

Previously, our collaboration with Uppsala University has examined associations between early life events and potential long-term effects in adulthood, particularly in regards to obesity risk. A number of the studies published have attracted considerable interest amongst the general public and the national and international media:

We are now starting to work on the data collected on these mothers and their children. Our aims include for example, to validate a NZ-based prediction model for childhood obesity using neonatal information.

We are hoping a summer student may be able to work with us on this project, and we are seeking someone who is:

* highly motivated;
* capable of working independently; and
* able to provide evidence of proficiency in writing in English.

The ultimate aim would be for the student to end up with at least one peer-reviewed publication as first or second author. Depending on the student's ability, it may even be possible to write up more than one study.

Skills taught:

In this project, we hope that a committed student will improve their skills to:

* properly research the literature on a particular topic;
* critically review and accurately summarize the existing evidence;
* precisely report our observations in an unbiased manner;
* interpret our findings and compare/contrast them to the existing evidence;
* evaluate our own study to identify its strengths and limitations; and
* write up a manuscript for submission to peer-reviewed journals.

Please note that we are unable to devote time to help a student improve their ability to write in English. Our aim is to help a student with good writing skills in English to develop their ability to think critically and write for a scientific audience, which are fundamental skills for those aiming to pursue a career in research.

Can maternal BMI dictate the biochemical profile of human milk?


Shikha Pundir


Liggins Institute

Project code: MHS146

Infancy is a crucial phase in human development and human breast milk (HBM), which contains a range of essential nutrients, is critical in nurturing that development.Breast milk and breastfeeding are well known to promote infant development and protect against childhood obesity; and also reduces the risk of developing metabolic disease later in life. Interestingly, breast milk composition not only differs among different women but also varies its composition throughout the lactation to tailor to the specific needs of a growing infant. Numerous human epidemiological and animal studies have shown the positive correlation between maternal health during and after pregnancy, breastmilk composition, and infant development. Since, the influence of maternal health and nutrition, while lactating, is a significantly overlooked area across New Zealand. Investigating human milk composition in relation to maternal adiposity may reveal important information for the nutritional management of lactating mothers with metabolic conditions.

The overarching goal of the project is to examine the association between maternal adiposity (healthy vs overweight/obese mothers) and hormonally active protein peptides in breast milk; and how this could affect infant health and development.

The assessment of blood pressure in children and adolescents with obesity


Dr Yvonne Anderson
Professor Paul Hofman
Dr William Wong


Liggins Institute

Project code: MHS212

Obesity in children and adolescents is associated with many weight-related comorbidities, including hypertension.[1] Whanau Pakari is a child and adolescent obesity intervention programme that has been running in Taranaki since 2012.[2] It has had a randomised clinical trial embedded within the service to assess outcome of participants in the programme.

Measuring blood pressure in children is an important skill, and is recommended in every clinical examination.[3] It is particularly important in children with obesity, with past studies of ambulatory blood pressure monitoring showing prevalence of hypertension as high as 48%.[4] Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring is not readily available to clinicians for every child with obesity, and therefore reliance on casual blood pressure monitoring as a screening tool for further investigation and management remains. Calculating percentiles has traditionally been undertaken with percentile charts.[3] However, newer more accurate algorithms are becoming available.[5]

One of our findings in the baseline participants for Whanau Pakari was that 11% of children and adolescents with obesity referred to the programme were either pre-hypertensive or hypertensive using algorithms, but using percentile charts, this was 30%.[6] The aim of this studentship is to determine whether the blood pressure algorithm is superior in clinical practice compared with percentile charts for children with obesity.

A literature review is proposed reviewing current international methods. Whanau Pakari participant data will be reviewed, and blood pressure percentile will be compared using the Fourth report charts versus the algorithm. Ethics will not be required as this audit will fall under Whanau Pakari activity which has NEAC approval. It is anticipated that this studentship will result in a short paper in an obesity journal. This project is likely to inform future clinical practice in relation to hypertension in children with obesity, and potentially children without obesity also.

If this studentship is successful, the student would be supervised by Dr Yvonne Anderson, who has supervised many students in varying stages of their careers. It would be optimal for the student to be based in Taranaki for at least a portion of their studentship. They would be assisted by the research team for Whanau Pakari, and have the opportunity to observe the Whanau Pakari multi-disciplinary team meetings. The wider collaborative team on this project would include Dr William Wong, Paediatric Nephrologist, Starship Hospital, and Professor Paul Hofman, Paediatric Endocrinologist, Liggins Institute, the University of Auckland.

This studentship would be ideally suited to a candidate who is interested in clinical research/evidence-based practice and/or Paediatrics. Whilst full supervision will be provided, the ideal candidate would be self-motivated, with a willingness to learn. It is expected they would have a manuscript drafted with support at the completion of this project. Basic word and excel skills essential.

1. Lakshman R, Elks CE, Ong KK. Childhood obesity. Circulation. 2012;126(14):1770-9.
2. Anderson YC, Wynter LE, Moller KR, Cave TL, Dolan GMS, Grant CC, et al. The effect of a multi-disciplinary obesity intervention compared to usual practice in those ready to make lifestyle changes: Design and rationale of Whanau Pakari. BMC Obesity. 2015;2(41).
3. National High Blood Pressure Education Program Working Group on High Blood Pressure in Children and,Adolescents. The fourth report on the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2004;114(2 Suppl 4th Report):555-76.
4. Maggio AB, Aggoun Y, Marchand LM, Martin XE, Herrmann F, Beghetti M, et al. Associations among obesity, blood pressure, and left ventricular mass. J Pediatr. 2008;152(4):489-93.
5. Age-based pediatric blood pressure reference charts. [Internet]. Houston, Texas: Baylor College of Medicine, USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center; 2011; cited 16 March 2015]. Available from:
6. Anderson YC, Wynter LE, Treves KF, Grant CC, Stewart JM, Cave TL, et al. Prevalence of comorbidities in obese New Zealand children and adolescents at enrolment in a community-based obesity programme. J Paediatr Child Health. 2016;52:1099–1105.

Cooking Your Data: The detrimental effects of orthodox SPME extraction temperatures on natural biosamples


Elizabeth J. McKenzie


Liggins Institute

Project code: MHS213

Solid-Phase Microextraction (SPME) is a widely used analytical technique for measuring volatile organic compounds in biosamples. The current literature on SPME advises sample extraction temperature optimisation based on the quality of the chromatographic profile.
However, recent studies in our laboratory comparing two different extraction temperatures indicate that increased extraction temperature decreased the relevance of the data to the biological question. Contrary to recommendations, the least optimal chromatographic profile gave the most biologically relevant results.

Project Aims
This project aims to look at a range of different biosamples and temperatures in order to develop recommendations for SPME incubation temperatures for biosamples, in order to prevent loss of samples and data.

This project would suit a second, third or fourth year undergraduate student with basic chemistry/biochemistry laboratory experience and an interest in volatiles analysis.

Skills that will be taught:
• Storage and handling of temperature sensitive samples
• Volatile extraction from biosamples (Solid-Phase Microextraction)
• Instrumental analysis (Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry)
• Mass spectrometry data extraction and identification

Candidate preferences:
• Hepatitis B immunisation preferred, but can be arranged
• Preferred start: November 2017
• Science/Biomedical major
• Creative thinker
• Self-motivated
• Attention to detail