2020-21 Summer Students

Posted by on 8 January 2021

These scholarships are awarded to support high achieving University students to do an ageing focused research project over the 10 week summer break. The aim is not only to achieve high quality worthwhile research, but also to enable these students to gain valuable skills, by working with experienced researchers, who supervise these projects. Due to the generosity of our sponsors, we have been able to award 2 Summer Scholarships.

The impact of Covid-19 on intergenerational social contact among people over 70

Student: Camille Prigent   
School: Nursing
Supervisors: Professor Merryn Gott, Tessa Morgan, Dr Lisa Williams

christine prigentiThe Covid-19 lockdown had particular implications for people over 70 who were identified as most vulnerable to the virus and singled out as needing to take special precautions.
A team from the Te Ārai research group based in the School of Nursing, University of Auckland, received funding from  the Auckland Medical Research Foundation to explore older peoples experiences during this time.

One phase of the project involves people over 70 (and Māori and Pacific people over 60) writing letters about their experiences of Lockdown - over 600 letters have been received so far. Summer student Camille Prigent will work with Tessa Morgan and Professor Merryn Gott to explore the issue of intergenerational social contact during lockdown as described in the letters.

Letters will be analysed using thematic analysis to address the following objectives:

  1. What was the impact of lockdown upon the extent of inter- generational contact people over 70 had during lockdown?
  2. Did the nature of that contact change?
  3. What was the role of technology in facilitating contact?
  4. Has lockdown had any long- term impacts upon inter-generational contact for people over 70?

We have permission to recontact letter writers to further explore aspects of their recorded experiences. The final part of the project will involve contacting a sample of letter writers to discuss findings. This will ensure older people are included at every stage of the project.

The project is part of the programme of research being undertaken by the bicultural Te Ārai Palliative Care and End of Life Research Group: http://www.tearairesearchgroup.com

Characterisation of astrocytic involvement in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease using human brain tissue microarrays

Student: Henry Liu
Department: Centre for Brain Research
Supervisor: Dr. Malvindar Singh-Bains
Co-supervisors: Mike Dragunow and Richard Faull

henry liuDementia is an emerging global public health challenge for our generation: over 35 million people are affected by this condition worldwide (Alzheimer’s Disease International, 2010). In New Zealand, one-in-three of those over 65 will develop an ageing-related brain disorder (primarily Alzheimer’s disease/ dementia) (Brain Research NZ, 2015). Current evidence heavily implicates the involvement of neuroinflammation, an immune response in the brain, as one of the key features of Alzheimer’s disease pathology. It has been observed that astrocytes, one of the brain’s primary supporting cells, have been implicated in neuroinflammation through a process known as reactive astrogliosis, which involves several changes to astrocytic structure  and function (Sofroniew & Vinters, 2010; Serrano-Pozo et al., 2013).

However, the spectrum of astrocytic cell involvement  in  Alzheimer’s  disease  is still far from being well understood in the human brain. The objective of this project is to screen for astrocytic changes in the Alzheimer’s disease human brain with a wide range of markers for proteins involved in astrocytic function.

We will examine markers for astrocytes  using  human  brain tissue microarrays (TMA) comprised of clinically well- characterised Alzheimer’s and control post-mortem brain tissue from the Neurological Foundation Human Brain Bank.

We hope to identify novel molecular changes to these astrocytes in Alzheimer’s disease, which may serve as future drug targets to tackle the condition.

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