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Canterbury engineer honoured for medical tech innovations

27 October 2016

Christchurch-based engineer Distinguished Professor Geoff Chase has been recognised for his outstanding contribution to medical technology, particularly in the areas of diabetes, cardiovascular and lung dysfunction and care.

Professor Chase received an established researcher award from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) at a special ceremony at the University of Canterbury this evening. The ceremony is a partnership between the University of Canterbury and the HRC to celebrate health research excellence.

HRC Chief Executive Professor Kath McPherson says Professor Chase is at the forefront of medical technology research in New Zealand and internationally.

“Geoff’s impressive research track record, which has been supported through four HRC grants, has successfully integrated engineering, physiology and clinical medicine to significantly improve the quality and cost of care for seriously ill patients,” says Professor McPherson.

“His research uses computer models of physiological processes with real-time bedside clinical data to personalise diagnosis, monitoring and care. Some of his achievements include helping develop the model-based SPRINT and STAR protocols, which are the world’s tightest and safest ways of controlling blood sugar levels in intensive care patients,” says Professor McPherson.

In Christchurch alone, STAR and SPRINT have already reduced the number of deaths in adult intensive care patients, saving approximately 300 lives and $5 million-plus in health care costs to date.

Another protocol Professor Chase helped develop called GRYPHON has shown similar exciting results to STAR and SPRINT with a model and system designed especially for pre-term babies – the only one of its kind in the world. GRYPHON is currently part of a randomised trial in several New Zealand neonatal intensive care units.

The computer models developed to achieve these results are at the heart of the New Zealand National Science Challenge MedTech portfolio, which Professor Chase leads, and its efforts to personalise and reshape care in pre- and type 2 diabetes. Professor Chase has also created models and methods to personalise and improve the care of intensive care patients on mechanical ventilators and those who have had circulatory failure, two other leading causes of intensive care unit costs and mortality.

Professor Chase has significant clinical collaborations in Christchurch, Auckland, and internationally in Belgium, Hungary, and Germany. He is deputy director of the MedTech Core with Professors Peter Hunter and Merryn Tawhai of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, and has developed two startup companies in medical devices and systems. In addition, he has supervised a large number of students in the MedTech area, including 14 postdoctoral fellows, 39 PhD, 16 masters and 76 honours students.

“My research with the intensive care unit at Christchurch Hospital has always focused on saving lives, improving care, and reducing costs so that this care is more accessible for all. The HRC has been a huge supporter of this work, without which these outcomes would not have been possible, and I’m very proud to be honoured for the results their funding has enabled,” says Professor Chase.

Professor Geoff Shaw, a senior specialist at the Christchurch Hospital intensive care unit and University of Otago, Christchurch, works closely with Professor Chase and says it’s important to stress how much collaboration between engineering and medicine can offer health care and patients.

“It’s a collaboration that I think will redefine a big part of the future of health care,” says Professor Shaw.

The HRC has also awarded University of Canterbury psychologist Dr Jacki Henderson with an emerging researcher award.

Dr Henderson received a HRC emerging researcher first grant in 2014 to lead a longitudinal study looking at the neurodevelopmental outcomes of children born to opiate-dependent women who received synthetic opiate methadone treatment during pregnancy. She says the study is the first systematic large-scale study of its kind.

“I’m very grateful for this award, which acknowledges the methadone and pregnancy research team’s hard work and builds on the previous waves of research initiated by Professor Lianne Woodward.”

Dr Henderson has recently travelled to Harvard Medical School in Boston, US to work with a colleague on the next follow-up wave of data collection, which is when the children enter the challenging developmental period of adolescence.

Professor Kath McPherson says the findings from Dr Henderson’s study will have important national and international impacts due to the increasing global rates of maternal opiate use and addiction, and will help guide how best to intervene and support these children and families, who are overrepresented in mental health, social services, special education, and child protection services.

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