UC CMRF Summer Research Scholarship.

Background: 

In 2020, Canterbury Medical Research Foundation (CMRF) have generously sponsored up to six fully funded summer scholarships. The UC CMRF Summer Research Scholarship scheme provides senior students the opportunity to undertake a supervised research project for a period of approximately 10 weeks during the summer recess. The research must be conducted in a health-related research area.

A UC CMRF Summer Research Scholarship provides the opportunity for a student to:

  • Receive a $5,000 scholarship (released in two payments in December and January),
  • Gain valuable research skills and experience in a health-related field through completion of a supervised research project for 400 hours (approximately 10 weeks) over the summer period (November - February),
  • Enhance their science communication skills through a presentation at the UC CMRF Summer Research Scholarship Feedback Day (February) and completion of a written report on their research project.

 

Information for staff:

  • Projects will be reviewed by a scholarship selection panel, and the top 6 applications approved for funding.
  • HoD approval is needed to undertake the project. By applying, it is assumed that the necessary approvals are in place.
  • All projects must have a project leader who will be available during the entire period of the project. Project leaders may be UC Academic Staff or external collaborators.
  • Projects must have a UC staff member as the contact person.
  • Late applications will not be accepted.
  • The scholarship is not an internship. Students must be conducting research under the guidance of a project leader/mentor, rather than acting as an employee.
  • A total of 6 projects will be approved.

What happens next after the project is approved?

  • Project leaders will be notified if their project has been approved. 
  • It is the project leader/HoD responsibility to advertise approved projects to their students. Please make sure staff are familiar with the eligibility criteria (see below) before approaching students—ineligible students will be declined. (3rd year Engineering and Speech and Language Pathology professional degree students are eligible to apply).
  • As per the deadlines below, the names of eligible students will be sent to project leaders for consideration. The project leader must select a student form the project and forward that student’s name to Lisa Carter, Postgraduate Research Manager (deanpgresearch@canterbury.ac.nz).   
  • The Postgrauate Research Office will notify successful candidates, copying in the project leader and HoD/S. Lisa Carter.
  • The start date of the project is noted in the timeline. Project leaders can negotiate the start date, but must keep in mind the Christmas break and the requirement to meet the 10 week timeframe.

 

2020/2021 timeline:

   
 Call for Projects to Academics 14th  September 
 Project proposal submissions due back from Academics 28th September
 Selection of projects to be funded and confirmed 2nd October
 List of projects available on the web for circulation to students 5th October
 Deadline for student applications to apply online 19th October
 Selection of students for projects sent to Project leaders for recommendations 20th October
 Project leader recommendations due to Dean PGR 23rd October
 Students selected and notified 26th October
 Deadline for students to accept or decline offers 2nd November
 Scholarship start date 16th November
   
 Scholarship Feedback Conference to be confirmed
 Scholarship Report Form submitted to be confirmed
   

Eligibility Criteria:

  • Be currently enrolled in the final year of an undergraduate or Honours degree at UC,
  • Students who have one or more courses to complete a degree next year are not eligible.
  • Students who will be completing a degree with two or more Majors in S1 next year, but will who will complete enough points for a degree this year, may apply.
  • Have a minimum B average grade (GPA of 5 or above) in the last full year of study.
  • International student must have a valid student visa before applying for a summer research scholarship. Students cannot use application for this scholarship to apply for a student visa.
  • BE(Hons) and BSLP(Hons) students may apply in their 2nd Professional year (3rd year). A reminder that students may only receive one Summer Scholarship. 

 Students are not eligible for Summer Research Scholarships if:

  • They are working (part-time or full-time) over the summer period, either in the University or outside.
  • They will be enrolled in a course for credit over the summer period. This includes enrolment in a summer school course or in PhD or Master’s thesis.

 

Assessment Criteria: 

When selecting students, staff are asked to consider:

  • Students who are in their final undergraduate year at UC, have a good GPA, and meet the eligibility criteria detailed above.
  • Students who have not previously undertaken a UC Summer Research Scholarship
  • Likelihood that the student will proceed to postgraduate study at the University of Canterbury
  • Student’s experience relevant to the project.

 

Conditions of the Scholarship:

  • Students must be available to undertake the scholarship full-time.
  • Students must be located at the University of Canterbury unless their project requires project-related travel. If a project requires time to be spent away from the University of Canterbury, the project advertisement will detail this.
  • Students will negotiate periods of research activity and holidays with the project leader. (The University is closed over the Christmas period).
  • Students should discuss with their supervisor the tasks and timeframes of the study, including regular times for supervision meetings and expected outcomes. If a project involves work outside of typical university working hours (8:00am-5:00pm), the project advertisement should provide details.
  • If students have any questions about the requirements for a specific project, they should contact the project leader before applying for the scholarship.
  • Students must clarify responsibility for any costs incurred in the course of the research project with the supervisor and department at the time of approval of the scholarship.
  • Students can only receive one summer research scholarship.

Any questions should be directed to Lisa Carter - deanpgresearch@canterbury.ac.nz      

 

List of Projects

Project Number 2020-1

Project Title: Determining optimal treatment for PCOS using crowd sourced data.

Project Leader(s): Paul Docherty, Knut Moeller, Helen Lunt, Rua Murray,

Host Department: Mechanical Engineering,

Staff contact email: paul.docherty@canterbury.ac.nz 

Outline of Project:    

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a debilitating disease that has been terribly under researched. Until recently (Mid-2020) it has been assumed that everyone presenting with PCOS has the same hormonal imbalance. However, a recent research paper has shown that there are at least three very different hormonal dysfunctions that lead to PCOS symptoms in most patients. While medical experts have suspected this for some time, the research confirming the differences is only just emerging. This explains the variable performance of candidate treatments for PCOS. I.e. treatments that work for one form of hormonal imbalance, do not help with another hormonal imbalance. In fact, in such cases, treatments that work for one patient with PCOS may actually harm another PCOS patient. Interestingly, online forums for PCOS patients discuss their symptoms and the effects of their treatments. For PCOS, there are over 500000 entries in a particular forum. While many are not medically interesting, many will link treatment to symptoms and outcomes. This will contain information required to classify the different route causes of PCOS, and determine which treatments are most effective for each type. However, extracting this information is not a trivial task, and would not be manually possible. Hence, emerging computational methods will be required. Recurrent convolutional neural networks (RCNN) are capable of determining trends in written text and extracting valuable data. The first step of the project will train the RCNN to recognise valuable posts. The second stage of the project will determine the information that can be recovered of the posts that are deemed valuable. If successful, the project will lead to new recommendations for patients with PCOS that recognise the variability in hormonal dysfunction and mitigate the difficultly to the initial treatment stage that currently causes significant distress.

specific courses/experience requirements:  None

Does this project require ethical approval?   Yes - The University of Canterbury Human Ethics Committee

 

Project Number 2020-2

Project Title: Understanding p16 protein fibril formation in cancer

Project Leader(s) Vanessa Morris

Host Department: School of Biological Sciences

Staff contact email: vanessa.morris@canterbury.ac.nz

Outline of Project:

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Aotearoa New Zealand. We suffer from one of the highest rates of cancer cases worldwide, with melanoma being the most commonly diagnosed. The incidence of many cancers is increasing and the development of new therapeutic strategies requires an in-depth understanding of the molecular mechanisms underpinning disease development. Cancer involves the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of cells. An important class of proteins called tumour suppressors prevent formation of cancers. The protein p16 regulates cell division and is an important tumour suppressor. Its mutations are known to actively drive the formation of melanoma. We have recently discovered a novel structural state of p16. Under certain conditions, p16 can change its structure and form large, insoluble, amyloid fibrils. These amyloid fibrils are inactive and cannot regulate cell division, and are therefore a non-functional form of p16. The role of this alternative state in cancer development is so-far unknown, however, our preliminary data indicate that p16 can be found in this state in certain cancer cell lines. Therefore, the fibril formation of p16 may represent a novel inactivation mechanism important for formation of many cancers. p16 is one of the most commonly mutated proteins in various cancers, for example it is modified in 85% of pancreatic adenocarcinomas. Some mutations affect the stability of the protein, leading to unfolded, non-functional p16, while other mutations prevent binding to its interaction partners. Yet other mutations have no clear mechanism by which they disrupt the function of p16. We hypothesize that certain p16 cancer mutations lead to increased amyloid formation propensity, thereby removing the important tumour suppressor function of p16. In this project, the student will produce eight p16 mutants which are predicted to increase the rate of amyloid fibril formation. Protein variants will be expressed in E. coli and purified, and then the amyloid fibril formation rates will be measured using fluorescence assays, gel electrophoresis and electron microscopy. The student will benefit from learning a range of cutting-edge biochemical and biophysical methods in an applied biomedical project embedded in the developing field of protein amyloid formation. The results will provide insights into the determinants of p16 amyloid formation, as well as elucidating a novel p16-inactivation mechanism in cancer.

specific courses/experience requirements: the successful candidate will be trained in all necessary experiments and no specific courses are required.

 

 

Project Number 2020-3

Project Title:  Integration of Sensor, Electronics, and Encapsulation for Diagnostic, Implantable Spinal Fusion Sensor System                                

Project Leader(s) Deborah Munro

Host Department: Mechanical Engineering

Staff contact email: debbie.munro@canterbury.ac.nz 

Outline of Project:

The purpose of this research is to improve patient outcomes after orthopaedic surgery by incorporating a “smart” implant that will allow clinicians to determine when bone healing or spinal fusion has occurred. Interrogation of the smart implant will be able to be done by a general practitioner, enabling specialist interpretation and care at a distance. This work will represent a paradigm shift in orthopaedic diagnostics by a) reducing patient disability period, b) providing actionable data on when an implant can be removed, and c) determining when a patient can return to employment or normal activities This research is protected by multiple patents, held at both the University of Auckland and the University of Canterbury. The team consists of researchers at both universities, along with external orthopaedic surgeons, advisors, and the animal research facility at Lincoln University. The team meets at least weekly in person or via online meetings. We have designed and tested solutions for our sensor, wireless power and communications’ electronics, and our encapsulation housing, along with how the sensor housing mounts onto the spinal instrumentation; however, we need a student to investigate how to combine all of these separate components into a completed system. The Summer Research Scholar would be responsible for integrating our components, including determining how best to mount or secure the components and wire them together, as well as encase them into a hermetically sealed housing. The student will need to design and conduct multiple characterisation tests to validate performance of the sensor system.

specific courses/experience requirements:

Successful student will have a strong interest in biomedical engineering and coursework in materials, electric circuits, and testing of electronic systems. Specific knowledge in MEMS, electronics, embedded systems, and/or biomaterials is preferred but not required. Student must be done with their university coursework at the end of this term and be free to work full time on campus for ten weeks.

 

Project Number 2020-4

Project Title: Engineering of new endolysins for treating bacterial infections

Project Leader(s)  Ren Dobson (Biomolecular Interaction Centre), Craig Billington (ESR). Student will be based at UC.

Host Department:  Biomolecular Interaction Centre.

Staff contact email: renwick.dobson@canterbury.ac.nz

Outline of Project:

Health rationale. The increasing prevalence of bacterial resistance to antibiotics is an urgent global issue. Antimicrobial-resistant bacteria currently cause at least 700,000 deaths per year worldwide, a figure that could increase to 10 million deaths per year by 2050 if no action is taken. There is an urgent need to develop alternative antimicrobial strategies to control bacterial infections. Gram-negative bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa are notoriously difficult to treat. Solution. Bacteriophage are viruses that infect and kill bacteria. They produce enzymes, called endolysins, that break open the bacteria releasing new bacteriophage particles, which effectively kills the bacteria. Treating bacteria with endolysins has been touted as an alternative antimicrobial strategy to current antibiotics. Endolysins cleave the peptidoglycan polymer that protects bacterial cells. Recombinantly expressed endolysins (i.e. endolysins produced in the lab) display similarly effective lytic abilities to their native counterparts when applied externally to susceptible bacteria. The student will develop a novel endolysin that we have discovered. During this project, the student will have the opportunity to utilise key protein biochemistry techniques to investigate the biophysical, structural and antibacterial properties of this protein. There could also be an opportunity to remotely utilise the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne to collect X-ray diffraction data on endolysin crystals to help elucidate the structural properties of these proteins (via the mail in service they now offer).

specific courses/experience requirements: Undergraduate Biochemistry

 

 

Project Number 2020-5

Project Title:              Development of objective measures of supraglottic constriction

Project Leader(s)      Phoebe Macrae, Ramakrishnan Mukundan

Host Department:      Psychology, Speech and Hearing

Staff contact email:    phoebe.macrae@canterbury.ac.nz 

Outline of Project:

Disordered voice occurs when the vibratory patterns of the vocal folds are disrupted. The most common characteristic of voice disorders is excessive muscle tension in the neck, throat (pharynx) and airway (larynx) (Sauder, 2018). The high prevalence of this symptom is due to that fact that muscle tension occurs in response to most primary causes of voice disturbance (such as vocal fold lesions (Belafsky, 2002) or vocal misuse (Van Houtte, 2011)), but can also be the primary physiologic cause in functional voice disorders, due to psychological factors (Van Houtte, 2011). The excessive muscle tension around the voice box disrupts functional biomechanics of the vocal mechanism, resulting in perceivable voice disturbance. Interestingly, excessive muscle tension around the voice box is also a symptom in approximately 50% of people with chronic cough (Vertigan, 2018). Our voice box is responsible for important survival and secondary functions, including protecting our lungs from foreign material and creating the foundation sounds of spoken communication. While there is solid evidence for the role of muscle tension in the impairment of these functions, precise and objective measurement of muscle tension has not been developed. To further characterize the role of muscle tension in airway functions (such as cough, swallowing, and voice), development of objective and repeatable measurement is required. This would also provide a means for understanding the variability and response of muscle tension to various treatments, providing an opportunity for more objective efficacy research in this area. This summer research project will explore ways of analysing endoscopic images of the pharynx and larynx, in order to develop objective measurement of muscle tension in these areas. Tissue regions of interest will be identified from demonstration endoscopic images. Methods of segmenting those regions and estimating the amplitude of constriction will be explored.

specific courses/experience requirements:  COSC428

Does thisproject require ethical approval?  Yes, the University of Canterbury Human Ethics Committee

 

Project Number 2020-6

Project Title:  Diagnostic dysphagia service in the community: a survey of practice and potential referrals

Project Leader(s)  Maggie-Lee Huckabee

Host Department:  Psychology, Speech and Hearing; Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research 

Staff contact email: maggie-lee.huckabee@canterbury.ac.nz

Outline of Project:

A priority in the New Zealand Health Strategy is the concept of ‘Closer to Home - Ka aro mai ki te kainga’: to “ensure the right services are delivered at the right location in an equitable and clinically and financially sustainable way” [22, p. 26]. Likewise, a key focus for the CDHB is providing optimal service to keep patients in the home and out of hospitals. Currently, the average transit time to the nearest major health centre in New Zealand is 45 minutes, but with the rural nature of New Zealand, and the lack of specialist services dysphagia rehab services in New Zealand, some are required to travel up to 5½ hours for such input. For many patients with neurological injury, or those who have poor access to independent transportation, this distance is prohibitive. This project is the first step in directly addressing these priorities by ensuring the availability of diagnostic swallowing services to patients in diverse locations that is suitable to their clinical and cultural needs. We are currently investigating the feasibility of a ‘mobile videofluoroscopy service’ that would address the lengthy waiting list for clinical swallowing studies in the DHB system and provide diagnostic evaluation to those who are not able to access clinical services due to distance or disability. This would not only extend the reach of clinical service, but would provide a unique and excellent opportunity for clinical training for our University students and offer a valuable platform for research, allowing us access to some patients who might otherwise be excluded due to distance. This summer project would represent an early step to validate the need and uptake of this service before we proceed with fund-raising. This project will consist of the provision of a tour of nursing homes across the broad Canterbury region and through the South Island. At each stop, we will provide a 3-hour training programme to nursing and other direct care staff on the basics of swallowing and dysphagia, and clinical identification of swallowing impairment in the elderly. This will include criteria for appropriate referrals for swallowing assessment. We will then leave nursing staff with a survey form to document the number and types of patients, across a one-month period following the training, who they feel may be appropriate for instrumental assessment, if it were available to them. The survey will include additional information probing uptake of training and how this translated into clinical justification. These data will be collated, summarised and an economic analysis derived to compare delivery of service at the door, to that needed to transfer patients to the health system hospitals. Direct costs of the summer project have already received funding externally; and we have the support of David Kerr from Ryman Health.

specific courses/experience requirements:  CMDS 365, 366

Does this project require ethical approval? Yes, The University of Canterbury Human Ethics Committee

 

Application Process

Students can apply HERE.  Applications must be received by no later than the end of business on the 19th of October 2020.