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New Zealand’s Best Brains Bound For Britain

Press release
Friday, 20 November 2009

New Zealand’s Best Brains Bound For Britain

Groundbreaking research which may predict volcanic eruptions in New Zealand, a study exploring new flu vaccines, and an investigation about how our genetics could aid in developing new cancer therapies, were some of the topics keeping New Zealand’s top university graduates awake at night.

The topics were up for discussion today, when three honours students from the University of Auckland, Waikato, Victoria, Canterbury or Otago, were announced recipients of the 2009 Woolf Fisher Scholarship.

The scholarships will enable Anna Dare of Auckland, Ashley Easter of Waikato and Nathalie Saurat, an Otago University graduate from Katikati, to undertake doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge next year.

Nine scholars were short listed for the prestigious Woolf Fisher Scholarship programme, which was established seven years ago.

The Woolf Fisher Trust offers up to three scholarships each year tenable at the University of Cambridge or the University of Oxford for three or four years of post graduate research leading to a doctoral degree or equivalent.

Commencing in 2010, the scholarships provide each recipient $100,000 of fees and living allowance each year.

Each scholar has been recommended by the New Zealand Vice Chancellors’ Committee, and on Thursday will be selected by the trustees of the Woolf Fisher Trust, for their outstanding academic and personal abilities. They will possess many of the qualities admired by the late Sir Woolf Fisher, co-founder of Fisher and Paykel; integrity, kindness and generosity, leadership, boldness of vision and exceptional zeal, keenness and capacity for work.

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The Trustees hope that the Woolf Fisher Scholars will make a commitment to New Zealand and that their careers will show a pattern of distinguished service to society that, directly or indirectly, will enhance the cultural level and moral strength of New Zealand.

Sir Noel Robinson, the Trust’s chairman, says this year’s selection process was extraordinarily difficult.

“The quality of our candidates is just so high now. All three students could become world leaders in their own right.

“If Anna, Ashleigh and Nathalie follow in the footsteps of our previous recipients, the supervisors at Oxford and Cambridge will continue to embrace our New Zealand scholars as they have told us our Kiwi recipients are punching way above their weight.”

Sir Noel says the challenge now, is to ensure the scholars will return to New Zealand after their studies.

“We just hope we see them back in New Zealand as their knowledge will be at the forefront of the world’s emerging technologies and discoveries. Our country has a responsibility to ensure our best brains can come back home,” he said.

The recipients:

Anna Dare has an honours degree in human biology from the University of Auckland and has graduated from the university’s medical programme. Next year, she will continue her education at Cambridge, where she will earn her PhD in researching mitochondrial dysfunction and therapeutics in kidney transplantation. The 25 year old Aucklander from the North Shore, says an increase in the incidence of obesity and diabetes in New Zealand, is likely to result in a higher number of end-stage renal failure, leading to an increased need for kidney transplants in New Zealand. Anna’s pioneering research of mitochondrial therapeutics aims to improve the condition of kidneys for transplantation, increasing the number of suitable organs available for surgery in this country. Anna is passionate about healthcare and has been the president of the New Zealand Medical Students Association.

Scientist Ashley Easter is a 22 year old University of Waikato Masters student. A Cambridge boy through and through; Ashley was brought up in Cambridge Waikato, and is now planning to read biochemistry at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Through his research of enzyme dynamics, Ashley hopes to extend his understanding of protein folding, which could lead to a cure for a variety of diseases including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Ashley says he wants to apply his studies to real world science and make a difference in finding cures; he says ‘science needs to have beneficial applications’.

Nathalie Saurat, an Otago University Bachelor of Science honours student, plans to gain her PhD from Cambridge biochemistry department, where she will research microRNAs (strands of molecules which regulate gene expression). The Dunedin resident says it is her hope that a greater understanding of microRNA action will one day aid in developing new cancer therapies. Originally from Katikati, 22 year old Nathalie says she’s driven by the desire to understand the ‘why’ as opposed to memorising a collection of facts.

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