Researchers 3D-printing veins, enhancing sports spectators’ experience through augmented reality, and studying how gut bacteria influences cancer development are among the recipients of this year’s University of Otago Early Career Awards for Distinction in Research.
The five award recipients were announced today. They are Dr Khoon Lim (Orthopaedic Surgery and Musculoskeletal Medicine, Christchurch), Dr Rachel Purcell (Surgery, Christchurch), Dr Stefanie Zollman (Computer Science), Dr Htin Lin Aung (Microbiology and Immunology), and Dr Rebecca Kinaston (Anatomy).
Each researcher receives a grant of NZD$5,000 for personal scholarly development and membership of the O-Zone Group which links early to mid-career researchers to promote networking and collaboration.
Professor Richard Blaikie, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise, says the award recipients are future research leaders, who have already undertaken significant bodies of research in their own right and bring forward stunning achievements that make them stand out amongst other worthy nominees.
The recipients and their research projects are:
Dr Khoon Lim (Orthopaedic Surgery and Musculoskeletal Medicine, Christchurch)
Almost all tissues and organs in the human body need oxygen and nutrients from functional blood vessels to survive. Disruptions to circulation can damage blood vessels but there are currently no treatments to fix them. One of Dr Khoon Lim’s research projects is the regeneration of blood vessel architecture using 3D-bioprinting with special growth factors. Dr Lim has also pioneered a type of bio-ink that contains human cells and can be 3D-printed to form the basis of blood vessels or human tissue. His patented bio-ink allows more cells to survive and thrive, and is being used in research laboratories and 3D-bioprinting companies internationally.
Dr Rachel Purcell (Surgery, Christchurch)
Dr Rachel Purcell is studying the role of the microbiome – the community of different bacteria living in our gut – on the development of colorectal cancer and other gastrointestinal diseases. She is also investigating the different molecular and genetic sub-types of colorectal cancer. She and her team were the first in the world to show that differences in the gut microbiome were linked to different molecular types of colorectal cancer. Her current work is looking at microbiome functions that alter response to therapy, and how modulating the microbiome can improve outcomes for patients with colorectal cancer.
Dr Stefanie Zollman (Computer Science)
Developing new ways to experience the world around us is what drives Dr Stefanie Zollman. Her research involving augmented reality and human computer interaction aims to develop tools and algorithms of relevance to a wide range of industries including transport, architecture, entertainment and tourism. Dr Zollman is leading a project to enrich sport spectator experiences by embedding game-related information and statistics into a stadium field-of-view on mobile devices such as phones. She is using augmented reality to enhance outdoor experiences by providing additional geographic data and information, and developing immersive virtual experiences from photographs and videos on mobile phone technology.
Dr Htin Lin Aung (Department of Microbiology and Immunology)
Dr Htin Lin Aung is an international expert in the next generation whole-genome sequencing of infectious diseases, particularly drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB). His research is focused on combating the disease in New Zealand, where Māori and Pacific peoples are over-represented in disease statistics, and overseas. One project in Myanmar, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, is the first ever nationwide survey of whole-genome sequencing for drug-resistant TB.
Dr Rebecca Kinaston (Department of Anatomy)
Dr Rebecca Kinaston’s research focus is answering pressing questions about how humans adapted to and moved across historic and pre-historic landscapes in the Asia-Pacific region, including New Zealand. This involves reconstructing how people lived by studying their skeletal remains. She has established a network of researchers and curators around the globe to work on projects that span from the Pleistocene to the Historic period. A major part of her work is leading bioarchaelogical excavations in Indonesia, Uzbekistan and California. She was selected as the forensic for the New Zealand Defence Force’s mission to bring home 36 personnel buried overseas between 1955 and 1971.