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Otago gains $27.6m in Govt funding for innovation

[Updated figures - Ed]

12 September 2012

Otago gains $27.6m in Govt funding to develop innovative tools and technologies

Funding announced today brings to $27.6m the total that University of Otago researchers have been awarded to lead projects in the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment’s 2012 Science Investment Round. Nine projects within the round are Otago-led, which is more than any other university in New Zealand.

Today’s announcement sees Otago researchers gaining nearly $14.4m in funding from the Government’s High Value Manufacturing and Services Research Fund to lead six projects developing innovative technologies with significant export potential.

Three Otago projects totalling $13.2m in the areas of nutrition, energy, and infrastructure were announced last month. Nationally, a total of $225m will be invested over the next six years to support 78 research projects.

The six new Otago projects focus on areas including developing new ‘smart’ gels for surgical and other medical uses, technologies for early diagnosis of diabetes and cancers, a novel additive to improve the quality of transplant kidneys and innovative labour-saving precision sensors for farming.

University of Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie says he is delighted by the Otago researchers’ outstanding success in the highly competitive funding round.

“To gain funding, proposals must go through a very robust assessment process to determine their scientific merit and potential benefits they may bring to the country.

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The innovative science and expertise underlying each of Otago’s successful bids will contribute to the growth of existing, new and emerging industries in New Zealand.”

“Otago’s well-known strengths in basic research across all disciplines is critical to our success in these applied research programmes. Success is also built upon the work that has been put in to developing relationships with the end users of our research, many of whom are direct partners in these programmes.”

Along with the three major projects funded earlier in the 2012 Science Investment Round, the Otago researchers’ impressive showing reflects the University’s strong focus on applying and extending its high quality research for the social, environmental and economic benefit of New Zealanders, Professor Blaikie says.

Otago’s High Value Manufacturing & Services Research Projects

Targeted research category:

Department of Chemistry researchers have gained funding of $6.95 million over six years (subject to review after four years) to pursue Smart gels for commercialisation.

Associate Professor Stephen Moratti and Professor Lyall Hanton together Professor Brian Robinson and surgical collaborators from Wellington and Adelaide will build on their earlier breakthrough research in developing a medical gel that improves outcomes in ENT surgery. They will now work to develop new-generation ‘tough’ gels for a variety of applications such as improved interaction with biological materials and effective response to external stimuli in a manner similar to living organisms.

Among the gels’ uses will be controlling bleeding and preventing adhesions forming in neurosurgery, abdominal surgery and gynaecological procedures, and acting as sealants and glues for trauma and high pressure wound healing, or as the core of novel orthopaedic supports.

In Sensors for Agritech Using Sequential Inference a team led by Dr Tim Molteno of the Department of Physics is carrying out research into innovative labour-saving sensors for agriculture. They will receive $3.98 million over five years (subject to review after three years).

The project will draw on cutting-edge expertise in satellite navigation systems, computational modelling and statistical inference to produce prototype sensors that will improve farmers' ability to easily and accurately monitor condition and behaviour of livestock in real-time. The team is also working closely with agritech, GPS tracking, and farm services companies to ensure the research is extended into on-farm practice. The data from these sensors could enable farmers to make more informed and timely management decisions around issues such as feeding and animal health.

Technology developments will be used for two kinds of sensor. The first uses computer models of animal locomotion to automatically infer the condition of livestock and quantify the uncertainty in these measurements. The second sensor type combines innovative satellite tracking technology— originally developed for wildlife tracking — with new measurement techniques to monitor pasture use in livestock.

Smart ideas category:

Associate Professor Parry Guilford of the Department of Biochemistry will lead a $910,000 project initially for two years to develop Sequence-based Diagnostics from Single Cells for cancer using latest genomic sequencing techniques. This approach aims to diagnose cancer more accurately at an earlier stage through detecting and sequencing individual cancer cells from samples of body fluids that have come into contact with certain tumours.

The researchers hope that sequence data from the cancer cells will also enable the precise anatomical localisation of tumours and provide information on its likely clinical characteristics, such as drug resistance or sensitivity.

In this proof of principle study, the team will apply the technology to developing a minimally invasive diagnostic test for endometrial cancer.

Dr Igor Meglinski and Dr Jevon Longdell of the Department of Physics will lead a project titled: Biomedical imaging and cancer detection using light and ultrasound. The work will receive initial funding of $828,000 over two years.

The team aims to develop and demonstrate a new non-invasive method for 3-D biomedical imaging, with the initial application of it being cancerous tissue. A medical device will combine two existing ultrasound and light techniques (Multispectral Optoacoustic Tomography (MOT) and Ultrasound Modulated Optical Tomography (UMOT)) to provide clear, accurate images of tissue, allowing it to be analysed for cancer cells at a much earlier stage than current technology allows.

University of Otago Christchurch researchers have gained initial funding of $866,718 over two years for their project A novel insulin production diagnostic. The project, led by Dr Christopher Pemberton, involves translating his discovery of protein fragments known as signal peptides into a diagnostic test which could change the way diabetes is managed.

The researchers’ aim is to develop a simple test of signal peptides of insulin that reflect threats to cells that make insulin. This test will detect abnormalities, before diabetes or the need for insulin become evident in both the type 1 and 2 forms of the disease. Otago Innovation, the University of Otago’s Commercialisation company is providing the management support for developing this scientific discovery into diagnostic tests that meet clinical needs and industry standards.

Dr Ivan Sammut of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Associate Professor David Larsen of the Department of Chemistry are leading an $827,368 project titled New Adjuncts for Transplant Solutions. Initially funded for two years, the research involves reducing damage to kidneys from deceased donors that results from the organ storage and transplant procedure.

The researchers have a developed an additive for use with existing specialised cold organ flush solutions that have been applied to improve kidney transplant survival.

They will test the additive for improvement in kidney function in a model of deceased donor organ transplantation. The study will use a combination of synthetic chemists, pharmacologists and toxicologists to refine the researchers’ existing pharmacological agent to meet this purpose. If successful this programme will deliver improved outcomes for transplant patients and allow greater use of organs traditionally considered marginal.


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