SBS scientists win research awards

17 December 2014
Dr Christopher Walker

Dr Christopher Walker of the University of Auckland’s School of Biological Sciences has gained $205,261 for research into a new class of pain treatments.

Dr Walker won the David and Cassie Anderson Research Fellowship in this year’s Auckland Medical Research Foundation Awards.

“Every New Zealander suffers from pain and for many it is an intolerable daily burden,” Dr Walker says. “New classes of drugs are required because current pain treatments have significant side-effects which prohibit long-term use or simply lack the required effectiveness. It is not surprising that many patients report inadequate pain management.”

His research will use ”sophisticated miniaturised technologies” to quantitatively explore how a pain-modulating factor acts on nerve cells at important sites for pain perception.

Another SBS project, which attracted funding of $141,000, explores the development of inhibitors for MenD, an enzyme vital for the production of vitamin K2, which is essential for the survival of the tuberculosis bacterium.

Dr Jodie Johnston from SBS is the principal investigator, working with assistant investigators Prof Margaret Brimble and Dr Daniel Furkert from the School of Chemical Sciences.

“Worldwide, TB is a major health problem, and in New Zealand, it disproportionately affects migrants, lower socio-economic groups and Māori,” says Dr Johnston.

“TB is a difficult disease to eradicate, with multi-drug resistant and extremely-drug resistant strains emerging, so new drugs are desperately needed.”

Professor Brimble also leads a research team that has been awarded $158,317 over two years to deliver cytotoxic compounds – drugs used to target cancer cells - to selectively target breast cancer cells without damaging surrounding tissue.

The foundation has also awarded a Doctoral Scholarship of $126,500 to Jennifer Eom, also from the School of Biological Sciences, for her research into tumours.

While tumours can be made up of both cancerous and non-cancerous cells, normal cells can also help cancer cells grow and survive. Modern approaches to cancer therapy target these normal cells – called mesenchymal cells - but knowledge of where they originate and how they change in response to invasion by cancer cells is limited. The research seeks to gain better knowledge of these different types of mesenchymal cells.

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