A novel idea by Dunedin Hospital clinicians to use naturalistic light to improve patients’ sleep quality, recovery and well-being received a $100,000 grant at this evening’s Health Research Excellence Awards.

Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine Dr Ben Brockway, Psychogeriatrician Associate Professor Yoram Barak and Assistant Research Fellow Kristina Aluzaite won the Health Service Delivery Grant to investigate whether installing lights that mimic natural sunlight would create a better environment for both patients and staff.

Several studies have demonstrated natural light having a dramatic effect on measures of health, recovery and wellbeing. According to the researchers, there is evidence that rooms receiving morning sunlight result in shorter hospital stays for patients with depression, while patients recovering from heart attacks staying in sunny rooms had better rates of recovery and lower mortality than those staying in dull rooms. 

The Health Research Excellence Awards are held annually to celebrate the ongoing and unique research partnership between the Dunedin School of Medicine and the Southern District Health Board, recognising outstanding research both within the University and hospital settings.

A team from Dunedin Hospital’s Department of Surgery and the Dunedin School of Medicine secured a second Health Service Delivery Grant of $100,000 for their project aimed at better health outcomes for surgical patients. 

Consultant general surgeons Jon Potter and John Woodfield and Tracey de Woeps, a manager within the Dunedin School of Medicine’s Department of Surgical Sciences, aim to create a patient-based electronic post-surgery follow up system with the ability for patients to automatically alert health practitioners in both primary and secondary care when a problem develops.  Ideally enabling more timely, appropriate and efficient patient support.

Southern District Health Board chief executive Chris Fleming says the close ties between the DHB and the Dunedin School of Medicine are tremendously beneficial for improving health care delivery and patient care, as well as for academic research.

“It is gratifying to see clinicians using their everyday clinical experiences and observations to effect changes for our own patients and communities,” Mr Fleming says.

“Through the promotion and publication of their research findings, the outcomes of this important work will also have benefits for patients far beyond our district.”

University of Otago Curekids Professor of Paediatric Genetics, Stephen Robertson, received one of the premier awards, the Dean’s Medal for Research Excellence. This is awarded for exceptional and sustained work in research in the Dunedin School of Medicine.

Professor Robertson, who continues to be an active clinical geneticist attached to Genetic Health Services New Zealand, in addition to teaching genetics to science and medical students,is considered an outstanding leader in his field internationally.

From 1999-2002 he held a Nuffield Medical Fellowship at the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University, studying the genetic basis of a set of genetic disorders characterised by severe life-limiting malformations in children. As a result, he has identified several genes which lead to malformations in children, with a particular focus on conditions that affect the skeleton and brain.

Dean of the Dunedin School of Medicine, Professor Barry Taylor says Professor Robertson is one of the School’s outstanding clinician scientists.

“His discoveries in understanding how our genes translate to development, especially of the brain, have led the world,” Professor Taylor says.

“Within New Zealand and in the Dunedin School of Medicine he has selflessly contributed enormously to encouraging research.”

Recipient of the Dean’s Medal for Research Excellence in 2013, Professor Rachael Taylor, the Karitane Fellow in Early Childhood Obesity and Director of the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre, was awarded the Research Development Investment prize.

As a result, Professor Taylor will receive a $100,000 grant for an international collaboration investigating the role of sleep in child health and wellbeing. One in three New Zealand children are overweight or obese by the time they are only two to four years old and given the lack of successful treatment, effective prevention of obesity early in life is seen as the major way forward, Professor Taylor explains.

A limited number of interventions have tested behaviours typically linked to weight management like diet and physical activity. But contrary to expectations, changing these behaviours in young children has proven to be challenging.

“It is time to think outside of the box for obesity intervention targets and sleep may be just the answer,” Professor Taylor says.

A large team of clinicians and researchers are involved in a medicines project aimed at improving patient health care which received the award for Best Collaboration between the Dunedin School of Medicine and Southern District Health Board.

Led by Dunedin Hospital Pharmacy Manager Craig MacKenzie and Associate Professor Rhiannon Braund, from the Pharmacovigilance Centre, the project aims to reduce medicines errors for patients being discharged from hospital.  They have developed an electronic prioritisation tool to identify patients at risk of readmission and are almost set to begin a trial using the tool on high-risk patients to investigate the effectiveness of a Clinical Pharmacist’s intervention.

The full list of significant awards are below:

Research Publication Awards

Professor Philip Hill – Impact of the Introduction of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccination on Pneumonia in the Gambia: Population-based Surveillance and Case-Control Studies

Dr Judith Marsman – A DNA Contact Map for the Mouse Runx1 Gene Identifies Novel Haematopoietic Enhancers

Dr Lianne Parkin – Antidepressants, Depression and Venous Thromboembolism Risk: Large Prospective Study of UK Women

Michael Meier (Best published paper by a Masters or PhD Student) – Cohesin Facilitates Zygotic Genome Activation in Zebrafish

Dunedin School of Medicine Departmental Awards

Bronwyn Hughes – Excellence in Research Support (Preventive and Social Medicine)

Merrilee Williams – Excellence in Research Support (Medicine)

Sarah-Jane Robertson – Excellence in Research Support (Women’s and Children’s Health)

Katie Young – Excellence in Research Support (Pathology)

Dr Amy Richardson – Early Career Researcher Award (Preventive and Social Medicine)

Dr Lauralie Richard – Jan Breward Award for Research Excellence in General Practice (General Practice and Rural Health)

Clinical Research Scholarship

Dr Carol Atmore

The Emily Johnston Scholarship

Dr Gloria Dainty

New Researcher Start Up Award

Associate Professor Yoram Barak, Dr Steve Johnson, Dr John Woodfield, Dr Kate Morgaine

Gil Barbezat Summer Studentship Prize

Sharmaine Sreedhar – Multimorbidity and multiple social disadvantage in a high needs primary health care clinic population: a cross-sectional study

Super Summer Student

Nicholas Hall – A simple non-invasive test to help identify those with aneurysms in the community

Isabelle Lomax-Sawyers – Discourse analysis of the public debate on the End of Life Choice Bill