Marsden Fund success for AUT

09 Nov, 2022
Marsden Fund success for AUT
(L-R) Dr Brent Seale, Jessica Fredericksen, Professor Nicola Brasch, and Dr Yan Li.

The Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences had two grants approved with total funding of $1.6 million in the 2022 round of Marsden funding.

This year’s Marsden funding includes $960,000 for a project developing vitamin B12 conjugates for the targeted uptake of antibiotics in resistant Gram-negative pathogens, led by Professor of Chemistry Nicola Brasch at the AUT School of Science.

Antimicrobial resistance is accelerating at an alarming rate. According to the World Health Organisation, Gram-negative bacteria represent the greatest threat to human health.

Gram-negative bacteria are resistant to multiple drugs and are increasingly resistant to most available antibiotics. These bacteria have built-in abilities to find new ways to be resistant and can pass along genetic materials that allow other bacteria to become drug-resistant as well.

Antimicrobial-resistant Gram-negative bacteria can modify their intrinsically impermeable outer membrane, making it even more challenging for antibiotics to diffuse through. Furthermore, efflux pump proteins ensure that antibiotics are rapidly expelled from these resistant bacteria before reaching their targets. New approaches are urgently needed.

All bacteria require nutrients to survive.

“Our research asks the fundamental question, ‘Can the active uptake pathway of the essential micronutrient vitamin B12 be exploited to deliver and retain antibiotics in persistent and resistant Gram-negative bacteria?’ Unlike bacteria, human cells take up B12 but not B12 analogues. This provides an excellent strategy to target bacteria using last-resort antibiotics that are toxic to humans,” says Professor Brasch.

AUT researchers will synthesise a library of structurally diverse B12 and B12 analogues incorporating fluorophores and antibiotics as cargo. Persistent E. coli and E. coli with established resistance mechanisms will be used as model systems.

“Through a series of experiments, we will gain a fundamental understanding of the factors underpinning the success of this delivery system,” says Professor Brasch.

“I would like to acknowledge the input of everybody in our team especially Dr Brent Seale, Dr Yan Li, and Jessica Fredericksen at the AUT School of Science.”

Professor of Health Sciences Kate Diesfeld at the AUT School of Public Health and Interdisciplinary Studies has been awarded $647,000 for a project to develop a rehabilitation model for professional discipline.

Discipline of registered practitioners aims to protect the public, maintain professional standards and ideally restore professional to practice.

Although rehabilitation is the most common penalty ordered by disciplinary tribunals, and is highly socially valued, it occurs in a theoretical vacuum. Tribunals borrow from diverse fields, such as correctional or health settings, or remain silent on rehabilitation principles and rationale.

“In the absence of a theory, the rehabilitation may not be fit for purpose and thereby not achieve its goals, including public protection. To promote hauora of practitioners and those they serve, the study will integrate matauranga Māori, and craft an internationally novel theory of rehabilitation,” says Professor Diesfeld.

Professor Kate Diesfeld

“Interdisciplinary analysis with the largest registered professions – law, education, and health – will create a research-informed theoretical rehabilitation model. Insights from those who order, deliver, and receive rehabilitation responds to international calls for empirical studies to drive disciplinary practice.”

The theory will aid tribunals to promote their core values of transparency, consistency, and predictability. Also, the theory will respond to NZ legislative amendments that require better empirical evidence of public protection in professional regulatory settings.

The Marsden Fund is administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand and supports leading researchers in Aotearoa to explore new ideas.

Marsden Fund Council Chair Professor David Bilkey says, “Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden was created to enable our leading and early-career researchers to develop their most inspired and ambitious ideas. Support for curiosity-driven ‘blue-sky’ ideas is vital sustenance to feed the healthy, resilient, and diverse research culture we have in Aotearoa. The resulting mahi can be expected to challenge accepted ways of thinking, introduce new lines of enquiry, and sometimes lead to unexpected discoveries”.

The 2022 Marsden Fund has allocated $77.3 million to 113 research projects led by researchers in New Zealand. These grants support excellent research in the humanities, engineering, mātauranga, mathematics, science, and the social sciences for three years.

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