NZ Scientist Wins International Award

NZ Scientist Wins International Award

22 August 2012, 10:27AM

University of Otago, Christchurch, senior lecturer Dr Suetonia Palmer has been recognised with a A$25,000 (NZ$32,480) Fellowship for her achievements in improving the treatment of people with chronic kidney disease around the world.

Dr Palmer is one of three Australasian women who have each gained a L’Oréal For Women in Science 2012 Fellowship awarded by L’Oréal Australia and New Zealand.

It is the sixth year of the Fellowships and the first year they have been open to New Zealand scientists.

A qualified medical practitioner, Christchurch-based Dr Palmer realised that the information available to doctors and patients is often confusing and sometimes wrong.

So she and her international colleagues have written a series of practice guidelines (Cochrane reviews) that gives doctors the best information.

Dr Palmer will use the Fellowship to help dialysis patients better prepare for treatment so they can treat themselves at home.

“Statistics show us that better prepared patients do better in the long run,” Dr Palmer says. “Patients prefer to treat themselves at home and the cost of doing so is less than half that of hospital treatment.”

“Our focus will be on researching how and when people get their information about treatment options and from this we will be able to develop best-practice guidelines for both patients and their doctors.”

Information will be gathered in interviews, focus groups and from world experience among indigenous and non-indigenous patients and their families in New Zealand.

Kidneys clean our blood. But about 10 per cent of the population will develop kidney disease and enter a lifelong process of disease management. A major cause of kidney disease is diabetes and indigenous people are three-times more likely to need dialysis treatment and less likely to receive a transplant, Dr Palmer says.

“There is a need to raise awareness of kidney disease among the general population, doctors and policy makers and I believe our research will go a long way to provide new access to the best information.”

She says that while dialysis patients learn how to home treat themselves in only a few weeks it is a daunting prospect for most.

“So proper training is essential. There’s a big scary machine and patients need to put needles in their arms and it can be overwhelming to some. The L’Oréal Fellowship will advance our research programme because we first need to know what information people are getting, when it is given and how effective it is.

“My wish is that over the next decade we can give back control of their lives to dialysis patients – so they can be in charge of their own treatment, get back to work and make them feel better.”

Dr Palmer works from temporary facilities in the Christchurch campus of the University of Otago while the city rebuilds. The Garden City is unusual in that historically it has been a leader in kidney disease self-treatment at home so it’s an ideal location to develop the research. 

The other two L’Oreal For Women in Science 2012 Fellowships have been awarded to Dr Baohua Jia and Dr Kylie Mason both from Melbourne. Dr Jia is researching more efficient solar cells while Dr Mason, is researching new treatments for blood cancers.