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Young researchers among best future scientists

7 June 2006


Young health researchers among the best future scientists in the country

New research has found evidence that some people are more likely to become addicted to nicotine because of their genes.

Dr Rod Lea from Environmental Science and Research (ESR) in Wellington, is investigating how a liver enzyme called CYP2A6 metabolises nicotine and eliminates it from the body. He has found that people with a slow acting CYP2A6 gene tend to eliminate nicotine from their body more slowly, and therefore feel the addictive effects of nicotine for longer.

Leading health research such as Dr Lea’s, has featured strongly in this year’s MacDiarmid Young Scientists of the Year Awards.

Six awards were presented to health researchers, including Dr Lea, who has won the place of overall runner-up in the awards and first-equal in the Advancing Human Health category, which is sponsored by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

The distinguished awards are named after Professor Alan MacDiarmid, a New Zealand born Nobel Prize winning scientist. They celebrate the achievements of New Zealand’s future scientific leaders and encourage others to follow in their footsteps. The awards are organised by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and the principal sponsor is Fisher & Paykel Appliances.

Among the other health research award winners is Pei-Yu Wang, joint-winner of the Advancing Human Health category. Pei-Yu, a PhD student at the University of Otago, is researching how brain diseases with a gender bias develop, such as motor neuron disease in men and anorexia in women. By looking at the role of Mullerian Inhibiting Substance (MIS) in creating maleness in the brain, Pei-Yu hopes to improve scientific understanding in this area.

Developing a software tool to help doctors monitor patients with early signs of melanoma won Hayley Reynolds from Auckland the joint runner-up award in Advancing Human Health category. Kylie Quinn from Wellington shared this award for her research into how tuberculosis (TB) works to damage the body.

Competition was fierce in the Advancing Human Health category, with a total of 45 entries received, making up 44 per cent of the total entries this year.

Dr Bruce Scoggins, Chief Executive of the HRC, says he was delighted to see so many entries of high quality.

“Health research can look forward to having an outstanding next generation of health research scientists,” he says.

This year’s winners were selected from more than 100 entries submitted from around the country. Entrants prepare a poster to summarise their research work and are judged on science excellence and clear communication of ideas.

The full list of this year’s health research winners:

National Award Runner-Up:
Dr Rod Lea (Wellington), ‘Genes, Nicotine & Addiction’. Rod was also first equal in the Advancing Human Health category.

Winners (first equal) Advancing Human Health:
Rod Lea (Wellington), (see above under national award runner-up)
Pei-Yu Wang (Dunedin), ‘Brain Sex”

Runners-up Advancing Human Health (two):
Kylie Quinn (Wellington), ‘TB’s partner in crime’
Hayley Reynolds (Auckland), ‘Melanoma, Catch it before it’s too late’

Commendation Advancing Human Health:
Dr Karen Silvers (Christchurch), ‘Can Fish make you Happy’


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