28th & 29 Nov 2017

HeartOtago Symposium 2017

Professor Paolo Madeddu Photo The second HeartOtago symposium was held on November 28th and 29th of 2017. The event featured an impressive roster of speakers hailing from New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and more. Covering a spectrum of research topics in the cardiovascular field, the symposium was of broad interest to the audience of almost 100 academic scientists, clinicians, and early career trainees. Our keynote speaker, sponsored by the Department of Physiology, University of Otago, was Professor Paolo Madeddu of the University of Bristol (UK). Professor Madeddu is one of the world’s foremost experts on repair of cardiac damage and reversal of cardiovascular disease. In recognition of his career achievements, Professor Madeddu received the 2017 Sir John Eccles Prize, a prestigious award given in honour of Sir John Eccles and his Nobel winning work here in New Zealand.

We thank our generous sponsors for their support of the event, including the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust, the Continuing Education Fund, and Lab Supply. We also thank all of the participants for making the HeartOtago symposium such a great success.

13th Nov 2017

Success for Jeff Erickson in the 2017 Marsden funding round

Jeff and fellow HeartOtago member (AI) Regis Lamberts were awarded $937,000 for their project entitled - NO Heart: A novel mechanism for modulating cardiac calcium by nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide (NO) is a key mediator of Ca2+ handling and cellular signaling in the heart, but the targets of NO that coordinate its cardiac effects are largely unknown. Our group recently identified a new target for NO regulation of cardiac physiology, Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent kinase II (CaMKII). CaMKII activation has broad impact on cardiac physiology, including increasing Ca2+ flux, lowering the threshold for Ca2+ entry, and increasing developed pressure. Our work demonstrated that CaMKII can be both activated and inhibited by NO via a pair of parallel mechanisms that result in nitrosylation of two residues (C273 and C290). Moreover, regulation of CaMKII activity by NO directly impacted Ca2+ handling in myocytes by altering the amount of Ca2+ release from internal stores. In this project, we will determine three critical functional consequences of NO-dependent CaMKII activity: 1) the effects on cellular Ca2+ handling and arrhythmogenic Ca2+ leak in myocytes, 2) the effects on Ca2+ entry into myocytes to initiate contraction, and 3) the effects on whole heart function. With this work, we hope to establish a new mechanism by which NO controls cellular and whole heart function, which would provide novel insight into the physiological and pathological processes that underlie cardiac performance.

25th August 2017

Congratulations to Lorna Daniels, PhD

Lorna Daniels’ PhD thesis has made the Health Sciences Divisional List of Exceptional Doctoral theses.

Lorna's PhD focused on the role of calcium calmodulin dependent protein kinase (CaMKIIδ) in type 2 diabetic heart dysfunction. CaMKIIδ activation has been shown to be up-regulated in diabetes and cause a number of pathological consequences. In this project, Lorna identified CaMKIIδ activation as a novel mediator of cardiac contractility in the type 2 diabetic heart, and that inhibition of CaMKIIδ can improve cardiac function. Therefore the work in this thesis has provided the first novel evidence of the therapeutic potential of CaMKIIδ inhibition in the type 2 diabetic heart.

Lorna was supervised by Drs Jeff Erickson & Regis Lamberts, and Associate Professor Fiona McDonald.

We wish Lorna all the best in her new Postdoctoral Research Fellow position which she is starting soon at the University of Auckland!

29th June 2017

Winner of OMSRS Research Staff Speaker Awards from HeartOtago!

Dr Carol Bussey was announced as the winner of 2017 Research Staff speaker award at the 239th Scientific Meeting of the Otago School of Medicine Research Society on 28th June.

Carol presented data from her recent work examining the contribution of altered right cardiac sympathetic nerve activity (cSNA) and parasympathetic nerve activity (PSNA) to disturbed heart rate in type 2 Zucker Diabetic Fatty rats. She showed that right cSNA and PSNA are both increased in diabetes, and that changes in afferent signalling from the heart back to the brain may be an underestimated contributor to cardiac dysfunction in type 2 diabetes.

5th May 2017

HeartOtago PhD students take home top prize spots at the School Symposium

The School of Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Postgraduate Symposium was held on 3-4 May at the Otago Museum, and once again, our students had great success at the event.

Congratulations to the following Physiology PhD students who were awarded prizes: Best Poster Prize: Jason Lew (supervisors Dr Daryl Schwenke and Assoc Prof Rajesh Katare): High-intensity interval exercise attenuates cardiac dysfunction and activates proangiogenic microRNA-126 in type-2 diabetic mice. For winning the Poster Prize, Jason will be invited to attend the University of Queensland Postgraduate Symposium in Brisbane later this year. 2nd place Oral Presentation: Adam Denny (supervisor Prof Alison Heather): Is High Density-Lipoprotein-based treatment an option for the treatment of muscle damage in Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy?

30th March 2017

HeartOtago member Rajesh Katare involved in fantastic Lab in a Box initiative

Lab in a Box is a mobile science laboratory, built in a 20 foot shipping container. It comes fully equipped with both science “gear” and people. Researchers and students from around New Zealand (or indeed around the World) are involved in this fantast

Associate Professor Rajesh Katare visited Rakaia to promote science and introduced the students to cardiac physiology by measuring heart rate and blood pressure.

8th March 2017

HeartOtago in the press: Key finding promises early detection of cardiovascular disease in diabetics

While in India to deliver the keynote address at JIPMER’s Karaikal's campus last week, Assoc Prof Rajesh Katare was interviewed by one of India’s leading newspapers, The Hindu.

3rd March 2017

Congratulations to Associate Professor Rajesh Katare who was awarded a research project grant of $88,246 over two years.

The project (with Associate Investigator and fellow HeartOtago member Professor Michael Williams) is entitled “Circulating microRNAs as prognostic indicator of ischemic heart disease”. Patients with chronic ischaemic heart disease (IHD) require regular follow-up to monitor progression of the disease and response to treatment. Currently, apart from echocardiography which requires patients visiting a specialty centre which is expensive, there is no other test available to precisely monitor the heart function during regular follow-up. In this study, they aim to test whether changes in the level of circulating microRNAs reflect changes in heart function, thereby making them a potent independent prognostic marker to understand progression of IHD. Results from this study will confirm the specificity and sensitivity of the circulating microRNAs in accurately reflecting the functional state of the diseased heart. In long term, this could result in the development of a novel biomarker assay to test the prognosis of IHD.

20th December 2016

Daryl Schwenke's Pasifika researchrecognised in School of Biomedical Sciences Awards 2016

Dr Schwenke's research was recognised at the annual awards ceremony held at the end of each year.

30th August 2016

HeartOtago researchers lead the way in gaining Heart Foundation funding

Dr Regis Lamberts and Pete Jones have been awarded one of only two project grants, with Professor Alison Heather and Dr Rajesh Katare gaining two out of three small project grants in the latest Heart Foundation research funding round.

Congratulations to:
Project Grant:
Drs Regis Lamberts & Pete Jones - $139,295 over 2 years for the project “How does fat make the human heart fibrillate?” Uncontrolled rhythm of the atria (atrial fibrillation, AF) is a common and serious heart disorder. Obesity, or excess fat tissue, is a highly prevalent, well-established risk factor for AF. Drs Lamberts & Jones’ laboratories aim to determine how excessive fat surrounding the heart interacts with the atrial myocardium to increase its susceptibility to AF. Their access to fresh atrial and epicardial fat tissue from obese and non-obese patients uniquely positions them to address our question: how surrounding heart fat drives AF? Understanding this will be the first crucial first step in developing specific therapeutics that target AF in the worldwide growing cohort of obese patients.

Small Project Grants:
Professor Alison Heather - $15,000 for the project “Defining estradiol’s bad effects on atherosclerosis: towards safe HRT for women"
Dr Rajesh Katare - $14,710 for the project “Development of ventricular cardiomyocytes from human pluripotent stem cells"

6th November 2015

HeartOtago researchers awarded Marsden funding

Dr Martin Fronius was awarded $755,000 over 3 years for his project "Shear force dependent regulation of epithelial Na+ channel (ENaC) and its relevance for blood pressure regulation". The ability to detect mechanical forces and to translate them into biochemical signals is a ubiquitous feature of cells. Epithelial Na+ channels (ENaCs) are regulated by shear force and their localisation in blood vessels implies a function in blood pressure regulation. We will explore the unknown mechanism of how ENaC senses shear force, and discover its role in blood pressure regulation. ENaC activity in response to shear force will be measured in cells (electrophysiology) and isolated blood vessels (pressure myography). These results will reveal a new mechanism that explains how mechanical shear force is converted into the cellular signals that underpin blood pressure regulation.

Dr Pete Jones was awarded $805,000 over 3 years for his project "Generating Novel Biosensors to Monitor Oxidative Stress in the Heart". Protein oxidation, a consequence of reactive oxygen species (ROS), is a fundamental form of intracellular signalling. ROS production is differentially regulated in discrete regions of the cell, but despite the importance of these 'ROS microdomains' there are currently no tools with the necessary spatial resolution to examine them. In the heart, oxidation is a key regulator of contraction and excess ROS leads to disease, particularly following ischemia-reperfusion injury. ROS augments contraction by increasing calcium release. The calcium release unit in cells of the heart is located within a unique structure, the cardiac dyad, with highly restricted diffusion and localised ROS production. This creates a discrete ROS microdomain. In this project we propose to create mice expressing genetically encoded ROS sensors targeted to the calcium release unit to pioneer the study of the dyad ROS microdomain. We will use these mice to determine when and how ROS within this microdomain is altered. This will allow us to unravel the interplay between ROS and calcium signalling. Understanding how and when the ROS microdomain surrounding the calcium release unit is perturbed will offer a new perspective on how calcium homeostasis is maintained physiologically and becomes corrupted during disease.

Announcing HeartOtago's first Australasian symposium

Bench to Bedside and Back: New Advances in Cardiovascular Research

Hosted by HeartOtago

25th and 26th November 2014, Dunedin, New Zealand

Update: Download the Finalised Symposium Program Here

Don Bers Photo Over two days, this meeting will bring together cardiovascular researchers and clinicians from across New Zealand and Australia to highlight and discuss the current advances in this field, providing an excellent opportunity to develop new collaborations with local and international researchers. The meeting will culminate in a keynote lecture by the 2014 Sir John Eccles Prestigious Speaker Dr Donald Bers (University of California, Davis), hosted by the Department of Physiology.

The meeting is open to all researchers and clinicians in Australasia. Registration is free but is required for catering purposes. Trainees are particularly encouraged to attend as there will be opportunities for all trainees to present their data as posters, with prizes for the best examples.

A final program of speakers will be announced soon but confirmed session topics include:

Calcium signaling and arrhythmia
Diabetes and heart disease
Vascular health and signaling
Neural control of the cardiovascular system
...and MORE!

Accommodations in Dunedin

Dunedin features a number of rooms for hire within easy walking distance to Barnett Theatre in Dunedin Hospital, the location of the 2014 Cardiovascular Symposium.

All of the following locations are recommended as mid-range options within a short walk of the meeting venue:

For a more centrally located location that is still within 10 minutes of the meeting venue:

For slightly more upscale options:

And finally for those looking for a more affordable option, we have a nearby hostel that is highly rated by local backpackers and other visitors:

Other options can be found at:

We do recommend choosing an option near the University of Otago campus or the downtown city centre, as these will be the most convenient locations for walking to the event venue.

For more information or to register for the meeting please contact Dr Jeff Erickson, heart@otago.ac.nz

This meeting is only possible due to the kind support of the following organisations:

Maurice & Paykel Trust

OSMS Otago School of Medical Sciences
Continuing Education Fund


HeartOtago operates with funding from the following organisations:
University of Otago Research GrantOtago Medical Research FoundationMarsden FundLottery Health ResearchHeart FoundationHealthcare Otago TrustHealth Research Council