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Canterbury University's young scientists dominate

Wed, 23 June 2004

Canterbury University's young scientists dominate awards

Students from the University of Canterbury have scooped the pool at the MacDiarmid Young Scientists of the Year Awards in Auckland, winning five of the eight category prizes and the overall prize.

Andrew Rudge, who is completing his PhD at the recently-established Centre for Bio-engineering, won the biotechnology prize and was named Young Scientist of the Year.

The awards were presented at a gala dinner last night by Nobel Prize-winning New Zealand scientist, Professor Alan MacDiarmid.

The prizes recognise Andrew's work in developing world-leading technology which determines the amount of sedative and painkilling drugs needed to comfort critically ill hospital patients.

Already his development is being praised by medical professionals who say it could save millions, if not billions, of dollars.

The computer-based technology, devised in collaboration with Christchurch Hospital, monitors and analyses the distress of patients.

It has an automated sensor which measures a patient's agitation and determines how much medication is required to make them comfortable.

The fully-automated system also administers the medication.

Currently Intensive Care Unit (ICU) staff have to monitor a patient, determine for themselves how much medication is required and administer it.

Andrew says as well as giving nursing staff greater flexibility, the system ensures patients do not get too much or not enough sedative and painkilling medication.

Dr Geoff Shaw, an ICU specialist at Christchurch Hospital, says determining the correct dosage for critically ill patients is a major difficulty.

"There is a tendency to give more rather than less to alleviate suffering but this is not good for the patient and also makes it difficult for doctors to carry out further treatment for whatever illness the patient is suffering from."

He says the technology Andrew has developed could help hospitals treat patients more efficiently and save on drug costs, which account for about 10 percent of the budget at Christchurch Hospital's ICU.

If the system was applied world wide, the savings could run into billions of dollars.

"In New Zealand alone, the savings made by using Andrew's system could fund another stand alone intensive care unit. This invention is a wonderful example of the benefits of collaboration, with medical science, engineering and mathematics combining to produce an outstanding outcome." Andrew's supervisors, Dr Shaw, Dr Geoff Chase (Mechanical Engineering) and Dr Dominic Lee (Mathematics and Statistics), say the awards confirm the talent they have seen displayed by Andrew.

Dr Chase says the awards also provide recognition for other researchers who have worked with Andrew.

"Andrew's research was the central, culminating focus of a broader, long term research program in agitation-sedation in critical care. This programme has also included the development of the world's first objective agitation 'sensor' for use in the sedation management system Andrew is developing. The entire programme has involved over ten man-years of work, three other postgraduates, and five Canterbury faculty over the past three years - a significant team effort on a very large problem of major significance".

Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Sharp said he was proud of the achievements of University of Canterbury postgraduate students in the MacDiarmid Young Scientist Awards.

"It was a pleasure to be in the audience last night and to hear Canterbury's name read out time and again," Professor Sharp said.

"It's an outstanding result and I congratulate the students and their supervisors. The success of our research students confirms our international reputation as a high-quality research-led university," he said.

Last night's announcement follows the publication of Canterbury's excellent research quality ranking in the Performance-Based Research Fund, where the University was rated a close second to the University of Auckland.

"It shows that it's not just our staff who are top researchers," Professor Sharp said.

The five category winners in the Young Scientist Awards spanned a range of science and engineering disciplines, reinforcing the high PBRF ratings in those areas.

"The collaboration across disciplines and across institutions was also very pleasing - it shows our young researchers are getting the benefit of working with multiple supervisors and with some of our research partners," Professor Sharp said.

Winning the MacDiarmid Award entitles Andrew to a trip to Washington DC, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAS), to meet leading science communicators and to spend time with the Voice of America radio network. He also receives the inaugural gold MacDiarmid medal.

Other Canterbury University winners were: Brett Davis, Agriculture and Forestry and Fishing; Aaron Grey, Manufacturing and Materials; Kelly Barnes, Maori Innovation; Audrey McKinley, 1st equal People and Society. The category winners each receive a cash prize of $2,000.


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