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Early Career Awards for outstanding researchers

Otago announces Early Career Awards for outstanding researchers


Five up-and-coming University of Otago staff from across its Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington campuses are the latest recipients of Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research.

Dr Anita Dunbier (Biochemistry), Dr Khaled Greish (Pharmacology and Toxicology), Dr Jason Gurney (Public Health, Wellington), Dr Anna Pilbrow (Medicine, Christchurch) and Dr Zach Weber (Philosophy) have been selected for the award on the basis of their outstanding research achievements.

Their research spans breast cancer genetics, new anti-cancer nanomedicines, testicular cancer rates, genetic factors underlying heart disease, and using mathematical techniques to tackle philosophical problems.

Announcing the latest recipients, University of Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Richard Blaikie congratulated the five researchers on their impressive records of achievement at such an early stage of their research careers.

“These award recipients are exemplary early-career researchers making energetic and fresh contributions to the University's research effort and culture. Their notable achievements firmly place them to become Otago’s research leaders of tomorrow,” Professor Blaikie says.

The Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research were introduced in 2004 to recognise and nurture the University’s most promising early career researchers. Each recipient will receive $5000 to support their research and scholarly development.

Recipients also become members of the University’s O-Zone Group of early-to-mid-career researchers. O-Zone undertakes activities to promote interdisciplinary thinking and collaborations and to present a positive, clear, innovative, and independent voice for research within the University and beyond.

About the recipients:


Dr Anita Dunbier

Dr Anita Dunbier is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry where her research programme focuses on improving responses to therapy in breast cancer. She was appointed as a Lecturer in 2011 after completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the Institute of Cancer Research and Royal Marsden Hospital in London, UK and a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Otago. That same year she was awarded the Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship from the Health Research Council of New Zealand and was a Marsden ‘Fast Start’ Grant recipient in 2012. She has also been successful in gaining research grants from the Health Research Council and Lottery Health Research.

Dr Dunbier’s research aims to identify which breast cancer patients are at risk of having their cancer recur after surgery and to develop better treatments for these patients. Her group has revealed the importance of immune responses to anti-oestrogen therapy and has found that, paradoxically, patients with high levels of immune infiltration receive less benefit from anti-oestrogen treatments. She has also identified three new genes associated with breast cancer risk and progression. Her work has been published in top-level international journals and she has been invited to speak at international conferences.

Dr Khaled Greish

Dr Khaled Greish is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. Dr Greish completed his Masters in Clinical Oncology at the Faculty of Medicine, Suez Canal University, Egypt, and his PhD at Kumamoto University, Japan in 2006. He held a Research Assistant Professor position at Utah University, USA before joining Otago University in 2011.

Dr Greish’s research focuses on designing novel anti-cancer nanomedicine. His approach takes advantage of the fact that a tumour’s blood vessels are its Achilles’ heel. Tumour blood vessels are extremely leaky, a property that distinguish tumours from normal tissue. In his laboratory he encapsulates anti-cancer drugs into a miceller system using nanotechnology. Similar to targeted missile warheads, his system can reach inside tumours by passing through the leaky vessel walls.

Then, release the drug within the tumour, selectively killing the cancer while causing little harm to normal tissues. His work resulted in two approved patents and he is currently working towards translating his research findings into clinically used anti-cancer drugs.

Dr Greish has published 47 papers in peer-reviewed journals and has written eight book chapters.
Dr Jason Gurney
Dr Jason Gurney is a Research Fellow in the University of Otago, Wellington, Cancer Control and Screening Research Group, and a HRC Eru Pomare Post-Doctoral Fellow. He currently divides his time between cancer and rheumatic fever research.

Dr Gurney’s Eru Pomare Fellowship focuses on testicular cancer – a disease which remains poorly understood in terms of its development. Previous work by Dr Gurney and his Cancer Control and Screening Research Group colleagues discovered that Māori men suffer the highest rates of testicular cancer in New Zealand – a finding completely at odds with the rest of the world, where it is white populations who suffer by far the highest rates of this disease. His Fellowship aims to understand the key drivers of this ethnic disparity, which will also lead to a greater understanding of the key exposures in the development of testicular cancer.

He is also a named co-investigator on two Health Research Council projects studying aspects of rheumatic fever; one investigating risk factors, and the other looking at the significance of rheumatic heart disease detected only by ultrasound.

Dr Anna Pilbrow

Dr Anna Pilbrow is a Health Research Council Sir Charles Hercus Fellow in the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago, Christchurch. She completed her PhD at the University of Otago, Christchurch in 2006 and undertook postdoctoral training at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, California, USA from 2008 to 2010.

Since taking up her current position in 2010, her research has focussed on understanding the mechanisms underlying our genetic susceptibility to heart disease. She has a particular interest in identifying molecules circulating in our blood that may signal the early stages of heart disease, even before the onset of symptoms. Ultimately, her research may help improve assessment of cardiovascular risk in the general population leading to earlier treatment, as well as guiding therapy in those with established heart disease.

Dr Pilbrow has publications in a number of high-impact cardiovascular journals and maintains productive international collaborations with the Cleveland Clinic, USA and the Karolinska Institute, Sweden. She is regularly invited to communicate her science with the general public and her colleagues, both in New Zealand and overseas. She has been awarded several external research grants and is currently on the Early Career Committee of the American Heart Association.

Dr Zach Weber

Dr Weber is a senior lecturer working in philosophical logic, using formal mathematics to address philosophical questions. In particular he studies paradoxes that arise in simple theories of truth and sets, and uses inconsistency-tolerant (“paraconsistent”) logics to try to understand these contradictions.

Before joining Otago as a lecturer in 2012 he was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne. Since 2013 he has been involved in two three-year Marsden Fast Start Grants; he is Principal Investigator on “Models of Paradox in Non-Classical Mereotopology” (Philosophy, Otago), and Associate Investigator on “Non-Classical Foundations of Analysis” (Mathematics, Canterbury). He has published articles in some of the world’s leading journals in his field, including Mind, Journal of Philosophy and Philosophical Quarterly. He is also the founder and convenor of the interdisciplinary Otago Logic Group.

ends

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