While the majority of university students have just arrived back, having enjoyed a long summer break, for the Otago Medical Research Foundation scholarship recipients it’s been a busy time.

For 10 weeks during the holidays they worked on their summer research projects. This year 23 students received scholarships, made possible through the generous support of Foundation sponsors and supporters, and through funds raised through the calendar of events, with a wide range of biomedical areas investigated.

Antibiotic resistance and fungal infections resistant to widely used antifungals is a major public health problem. Current treatment options are becoming limited and new antimicrobial, and antifungal drugs are urgently required to combat the rapidly growing global problem of resistance. This year five summer students: Danni Chen and Joycelyn Ho (Foundation scholars), Sewoon Kim and Natalie Lagesse (Southern Victorian Charitable Trust scholars) and Alec Cross (Rabia Siddique scholar) all carried out projects that investigated new bacterial and fungal targets for antibiotics/antifungals, or studied the genes in bacteria involved in creating antibiotic resistance.

For example, azole drugs act on a fungal enzyme to block growth. However, three different parts of the enzyme active sites have been identified and Danni Chen’s research examined these areas of the enzyme as potential contact points for new antifungals.

Over the summer six projects investigated different aspects of cancer. Sam Flaherty (Crowe Horwath scholar), Douglas Gaskarth (Healthcare Otago Charitable scholar), Nicola Jones (Deloitte scholar), Andrew Kim (Southern Victorian Charitable Trust scholar), Ginny Niemi (Stonelake scholar) and Jonathan Rowe (Hughes Family Trust scholar) worked on projects aimed to produce results which in the future could help treat or prevent metastatic spread to other organs.

Sam Flaherty studied the genes which can predispose an individual to cancer and identified mutations, which in the future could be used in cancer screening and targeting treatments,  while Douglas Gaskarth’s project studied the mechanisms involved in activating our body’s own immune cells to recognise and kill cancer cells with this knowledge crucial for future immune-based cancer therapies.

We are all aware a healthy heart is extremely important and four students – Hamish Aitken-Buck (Garth McQueen Scholar), Lizele Borges (Kingston Sedgfield Charitable Trust Scholar), Nigaah Khan (Otago Diabetes Research Scholar) and Justine Paddison (Lions Club of Dunedin South Scholar) researched projects focussed on this vital organ.

Individuals with diabetes can develop potentially fatal cardiovascular problems and both Lizele Borges and Nigaah Khan’s work used molecular techniques to investigate the changes that occur in heart cells due to high blood glucose level in order to understand how these changes can be prevented. Justine Paddison’s research involved a very different approach where she looked into the health-related quality of life of people who have Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators. These implanted devices help treat patients with irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias and Justine’s summer project was intent on developing and establishing a database to provide information on the quality of life for these patients.

The Foundation is extremely proud to have provided scholarship support to all 23 summer students and we look forward to updating you on the results of the projects following submission of the students’ reports later this month.

Videos of the students explaining their research work can be viewed on our Facebook page or visit our YouTube channel.