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Nationwide Winner Realises Dream

Media Statement
Thurs, 3 July 2003

Nationwide Winner Realises Dream

PhD student Wendy Brooks has won the overall prize of the prestigious FiRST Scholarship Awards, sponsored by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, for her research on Alzheimer’s Disease. The Award was presented by the Hon Peter Hodgson, Minister for Research, Science and Technology at an event in Auckland this evening.

Wendy, who is currently completing her PhD at the University of Cambridge, England, is looking into the potential genetic and environmental influences leading to Alzheimer’s Disease, which affects 47% of people over 85 years. Her work, coupled with the findings of other researchers, will lead to stopping the disease in humans in the future.

As a result of her success, Wendy will be heading off to the United States in September to meet with top US science communicators and will be spending time with leading American radio and television networks such as the Voice of America and CNN.

“This is an amazing opportunity. Before I came to Cambridge I tried to get some funding to do a course in science communication as that was something that I really wanted to do,” said Wendy Brooks.

“I found out that I didn’t have funding to do an official course but I was then offered the great opportunity to come to Cambridge. So obviously I took that and haven’t regretted it a bit – but now it’s really nice to have the opportunity to explore science communication because when I’m finished at Cambridge I would like to move into science writing.

“It’s like playing snakes and ladders and learning I’ve suddenly hit a big ladder and elevated myself up the board – so I’m absolutely thrilled at the opportunity.”

With science communication seen as a key factor in the success of the research, science and technology sector in the future, a key criteria of the competition is that posters produced by entrants need to incorporate quality scientific information and design to ensure that laypeople can understand the project and see the benefits that flow from it.

The awards are also designed to ensure all New Zealanders can see and understand the importance of New Zealander’s excellent work in the area of science and technology – and to move science into the mainstream.

The $5,000 FiRST Scholarship Awards prize was sponsored by Zespri International and made possible with the assistance of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society with 134,000 members and 272 affiliated organisations representing more than 10 million members worldwide. It also publishes the journal ‘Science’.

Dr Martin Jarvis' entry, "Hormones hold hope in heart disease," won the Health Research Council of New Zealand's prize for health research.

HRC Chief Executive Dr Bruce Scoggins says the HRC is pleased to support the FiRST Scholarship Awards with a prize for health research because New Zealand has very talented young researchers engaged in health research and it is important to showcase their work.

A total of thirteen FiRST awards have been given this year, made up of five from the North Island, five from the South Island, regional winners from the North and South Islands and an overall winner.

Before tonight’s presentation, scientists, researchers and technologists from around New Zealand gathered in Auckland to discuss a range of issues including communication and the importance of research and to hear from former award winners.


About the Winners

Wendy Brooks, Nationwide Winner, Overall South Island Winner, and South Island Scheme Winner (Top Achiever Doctoral Scholarship)

Wendy Brooks grew up in Renwick, Marlborough, studying at Marlborough Girls’ College.

She changed her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology to a Bachelor of Science in Psychology when she realised she was interested in researching the biological bases of neurological disorders. Graduating from Massey University, Wendy headed to Otago University to complete her Masters in Science, with distinction, where she researched an aspect of the biological basis of memory formation under the supervision of Professor Cliff Abraham (Psychology) and Professor Warren Tate (Biochemistry).

In October 2000 Wendy headed to England to take up her Bright Future's Scholarship at the University of Cambridge. Wendy is based at the Human Genome Mapping Project Resource Centre, which is a few miles south of Cambridge city. She is currently nearing the end of her three-year PhD.

Wendy is researching the biological factors implicated in Alzheimer’s Disease, which affects up to 47% of people over 85 years and in 90% of cases a cause is unknown.

Potential genetic and environmental influences leading to Alzheimer’s Disease are being identified, and it is hoped that new molecules will be implicated, and that along with the findings of other researchers the results will lead to stopping the disease in humans in the future.

Dr Martin Jarvis, Winner HRC award, and South Island Scheme Winner (NZ Science and Technology Post Doctoral Fellowship)

Cantabrian, Martin Jarvis, was born in Christchurch and studied at the University of Canterbury where he completed a Bachelor of Science degree and in 2001 a Doctorate of Philosophy, in Plant Biotechnology. During his studies at Canterbury University he received a Canterbury Masters Scholarship, and a Canterbury Doctoral Scholarship.

Pursuing a career that would help develop his technical skills, Martin branched out of plant biology following university. He was employed by Dr Vicky Cameron at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Studies, where he became involved with the Christchurch Cardioendocrine Research Group, whose work on blood pressure and heart failure research is world reknown.

While employed as a technician with the group, he set up a cell-culture system to study the role of hormones in heart disease. The research team is looking at aspects of gene function in relation to the various phases of a heart attack and following heart failure. Utilising cutting edge molecular technologies their focus is on the hormones which are naturally produced by the heart in response to cardiac stress (natriuretic peptides) and interact with cytokines (growth factors), particularly Transforming Growth Factor- (TGF-). TGF- initiates and terminates tissue repair, and sustained production underlies the development of tissue fibrosis – scarring of the heart wall.
About the FiRST Scholarship Awards

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology invests in graduate and post-graduate research Fellowship programmes: the NZ Science & Technology Post Doctoral Fellowships, the Tūāpapa Pūtaiao Māori Fellowships, Technology New Zealand's Technology for Industry (TIF) Fellowships. It also administers the Top Achiever Doctoral Scholarships and the Enterprise Scholarships on behalf of the Ministry of Education.

In 1999 the Foundation initiated the annual FiRST (Fellows in Research, Science & Technology) Awards to showcase the outstanding work being done by New Zealand's up and coming scientists and technologists. Subsequent FiRST Awards were expanded to include a seminar for fellows and scholars. The awards are designed to demonstrate to the fellows, scholars and guests the value and benefits of science to the New Zealand and global community. These awards also build and promote links between universities, research organisations and business and aim to broaden participants’ understanding of the science system in New Zealand.

In the past, the FiRST Awards have been well supported by the fellows and scholars and by the wider academic, science and business community. Record attendance has been achieved in 2003, with over 200 people attending the Awards ceremonyThe poster competition this year attracted a record 106 entries, an increase of 47% on the previous year.

The Awards are judged by a panel of specialists with expertise in business, research, communication and design, and science. This year’s judges are Fraser Carson, Director of Wellington-based Fresco Advertising, Dr Tony Price from Navman NZ Ltd, Alison Stewart, Professor of Plant Pathology at Lincoln University, and Katherine Corich, Manager Strategy and Research Development, SYSDOC Group.

Both the Christchurch and Auckland Awards ceremony were preceded by a full-day workshop for fellows and scholars.

For more information, including details on the Awards ceremony, programme and workshops can be found at

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