Scientific Assessment Committee

What is the Scientific Assessing Committee (SAC)?

The Scientific Assessment Committee (SAC) of the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation has been crucial in implementing our vision of supporting research excellence in Canterbury. It is composed of experienced and respected senior researchers and clinicians from the region’s academic institutions, including University of Canterbury and University of Otago, Christchurch.

The SAC is responsible for assessing the funding applications received by the Foundation each year and providing their recommendation to the Executive Board of the Foundation for final approval. This process ensures that high standards of research excellence are maintained for all the funding applications that are approved each year by the Foundation.

How do they assess grants?

When assessing the Major Projects Grant Round applications, the CMRF Scientific Assessing Committee is weighted to 40% Significance & Rationale, 20% Methods & Rationale, 20% Research Team and 20% Feasibility of Project.

Dependent on the number of applications received in any given ‘round’, committee members each take responsibility for initial assessment of a small number of applications, which are rated according to a standardized rating system. These are then sent to a small selection of area-specific experienced referees for peer review.

Once the reviews have been taken into account along with the scores from the initial assessment, a recommendation is made to the CMRF Executive regarding the projects that the SAC feel have the most merit.

The Foundation will also accept proposals for projects suitable for Co-funding by CMRF in partnership with another funder. Such proposals should include the original research application, all applicable project information and supporting assessments that have been undertaken prior to approaching CMRF. If necessary, CMRF will overlay its own assessment procedures as outlined above, where it does not consider previous assessments as being sufficient. We accept proposals for co-funding year-round.

The Executive then overlays a budgetary constraint assessment and decisions are made regarding how many applications can be funded. Decisions are final and no appeals are accepted.

Associate Professor Gabi Dachs

// Chair

Research Associate Professor BSc PhD (Cape Town) Associate
Professor Gabi Dachs completed her undergraduate and PhD studies in Cape Town, South Africa, followed by postdoctoral work at the MRC Harwell in the United Kingdom. Prior to joining the University of Otago in Christchurch, Associate Professor Dachs worked as senior scientist at the Gray Cancer Institute in London, UK.
Research interests: Associate Professor Gabi Dachs is interested in why human tumours are difficult to treat, and in new ways of treating them. Current research interests at present include:
- Can we dampen the activity of the global transcription factor HIF-1 using vitamin C? Can we reduce tumour growth in mice using vitamin C? Can we increase vitamin C in cancer cells using gene therapy? What is the relationship between ascorbate and HIF-1 in tumours from kidney cancer patients?
- Why do obese cancer patients often fare worse than non-obese patients? Can we identify the molecular factors associated with obesity in cancer? What effect do these obesity-related factors have on chemotherapy?
- Which human enzymes are responsible for the activation of novel anticancer pro-drugs (in collaboration with Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre)? Can this knowledge guide clinical use of these agents?
- Can we improve gene directed enzyme prodrug therapy combinations to target solid tumours or their vasculature?

Dr Tracy Melzer

// Deputy Chair

Dr Melzer is involved in a wide range of neurological research, including child development, mild traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, neurodegenerative diseases, and more. As a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Medicine, his primary focus is on the development and application of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques to advance our understanding of cognitive decline in Parkinson’s disease.

Dr Ben Hudson

// Committee Member

Ben graduated from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) and completed GP training in the North East of England. He has worked as a GP in Lyttelton since 2005. His research interests are in pain management in osteoarthritis, and risk communication. Ben is the convenor for the trainee intern general practice attachment. In addition to his academic and clinical roles, Ben is the clinical leader for education and a member of the clinical board at Pegasus Health.

Professor John Dalrymple-Alford

// Committee Member

Bachelor of Science (Honours), Doctor of Philosophy
Research interests include neuropsychology, including disorders of memory, neuro-degenerative disorders, recovery of function after brain damage; behavioural neuro-science, including animal models of the effects of brain damage in humans, neural transplants, hippocampal system function, enriched environments; and behavioural pharmacology, including effects of drugs and nutritional factors in humans and animals.
- Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Multiple Sclerosis
- Behavioural pharmacology
- Enriched environments

Professor Renwick Dobson

// Committee Member

Research in our lab focuses on the structure, function and inhibition of key enzymes involved in infection and disease. We are also interested in the evolution of enzyme function, and conversely its design and manipulation. We study a variety of enzymes: from those responsible for the biosynthesis of amino acids, in particular lysine, since these are validated drug targets; to glycolytic enzymes, such as pyruvate kinase, since these are tractable model systems to understand enzyme allostery. The list is ever increasing. A common theme in the lab is the role protein-protein interactions in a variety of biological systems, mostly derived from bacteria, but more recently including eukaryotic proteins involved in cancer, where we hope to address the twin problems of how and why proteins form complexes and the functional consequences of these associations.
- Enzymology
- Enzyme evolution and Enzyme design
- Structural biology
- Biophysics

Dr Catherine Theys

// Committee Member

Dr. Theys’ research aims to gain a comprehensive understanding of normal speech production and speech production disorders by combining behavioural and neuroimaging approaches. To grasp the complexity of the speech production process, she uses an integrated approach of neurocomputational modelling with brain imaging and neurophysiological techniques capable of capturing the spatial ((f)MRI) and temporal (EEG) neural correlates of speech. This approach is based on state-of-the-art models, data acquisition and processing techniques, and complemented by novel, custom-developed techniques. The fundamental scientific component of this research focuses on detailed mapping of the neural speech network. This is conducted through the study of normal speech production as well as stuttering and acquired neurogenic speech disorders. Dr Theys’ studies on speech disorders also have a strong translational component. It is anticipated that understanding the neural basis of speech production problems will eventually lead to effective and personalized treatment approaches, with a positive impact on health and wellbeing.

Professor Richard Porter

// Committee Member

He has conducted multiple studies into the neurobiology of mood disorders and particularly the neurobiology of cognitive impairment and is now conducting studies of cognitive remediation in mood disorders. He is a consultant psychiatrist specialising in psychiatric care of adults with intellectual disability and also sees patients with treatment resistant mood disorders for second opinions regarding treatment.

Professor Chris Frampton

// Committee Member

BSc (Hons) PhD (Cant) Department of Medicine (UOC), Department of Psychological Medicine (UOC) Chris Frampton is the departmental biostatistician and is involved in departmental teaching and the design and analysis of research studies.
His particular research interests include the modelling and prediction of long-term outcome data, and developing structural equation models for defining personality constructs.

Associate Professor Paul Docherty

// Committee Member

I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing people across a variety of research fields. This has led me to engage across many applications and develop a very diverse research skill set. I work predominantly with numerical methods in bioengineering. This concentrates in the forward problem, the inverse problem, and identifiability - typically in lumped parameter systems. However, I have also worked extensively in PIV analysis of biological flows, head injury mechanics and qualitative research in education. The full scope that I have worked in includes agricultural design, cellular modelling, aerospace design, and medical device design.

Parameter Identification
Model Identifiability
Numerical Methods
Application of Optimisation
Pulmonary Mechanics
Glycaemic Modelling
Flow Visualisation
Agricultural Design

Dr Vanessa Morris

// Committee Member

My lab is focused on studying the structures, mechanisms and interactions of aggregating proteins. We are particularly interested in a certain fibre-like structure that is formed by a great variety of proteins called amyloid fibrils. We study amyloid proteins involved in disease, including Alzheimer's disease and motor neuron disease, as well as those that have functions in important biological processes.

The kinds of questions we are looking at include:
1) What are the functions of amyloids and aggregates in different biological processes?
2) What are the structural details of aggregates that have functional and disease-relevant roles?
3) How do other proteins and small molecules affect the aggregation of disease-relevant proteins, and at what stage do they affect aggregation? 4) What sequences are important for aggregation processes, and how can these be interfered with?
5) How do disease mutations affect aggregation or functional behaviour of aggregation-prone proteins?

We are studying these topics with a range of structural and biophysical techniques including NMR spectroscopy (both solid-state and solution state), fluorescence-based aggregation assays, electron microscopy.

Professor Margreet Vissers

// Committee Member

Most of Professor Vissers research revolves around determining the biological functions of vitamin C (ascorbate), which is widely considered to be an important natural antioxidant. However, ascorbate is also an essential co-factor for a family of enzymes, the 2-oxoglutarate-dependent dioxygenases, which control many biological processes, ranging from the stress response to hypoxia, to the regulation of epigenetic enzymes. These processes are important in cancer and we are investigating the contribution of ascorbate to cancer growth as a result of its co-factor activity for these enzymes.

Dr Allamanda Faatoese

// Committee Member

Dr Faatoese is a Research Fellow with the Christchurch Heart Institute, University of Otago Christchurch. Her work and passions are driven by helping to improve the health of Pasifika families and communities. Her research focuses on identifying genetic, epigenetic and circulating biomarkers associated with cardiometabolic risk among Pacific communities. Also, she is the Convenor of Pacific Health Teaching to medical students at UOC.

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