University of Otago

Our Researchers
Home » About Us » Our Researchers » University of Otago

University of Otago – Dunedin


Prof Cliff Abraham
Neural mechanisms of learning and memory, cellular and molecular events underlying nervous system plasticity and Alzheimer’s disease. Expertise in electrophysiological, behavioural and immunofluorescent microscopy approaches to studying the mechanisms mediating the induction and persistence of synaptic plasticity in vivo and in vitro, and their relevance to memory. Blood biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Andrew Clarkson
Post-stroke neuroprotection and regeneration and repair mechanisms promoting recovery of function following a stroke involving novel combinations of intensive rehabilitation, drug therapy and more recently stem cells to enhance brain repair processes. This utilises behavioural, electrophysiological, optical imaging and anatomical measures to assess recovery after stroke.

Dr Nick Cutfield
Developing predictive blood biomarkers for Alzheimer’s; Vestibular schwannoma; Relationship of high frequency eye movement recordings to cognition and balance in Parkinson’s disease; Augmented reflection technology in neurorehabilitation.

Prof Ruth Empson
Cellular and network identity in the motor cortex, Cerebellar circuitry; Movement disorders including ataxia, motor neurone disease and spinal injury; Contribution from the cerebellum to cognitive processes and its disruption in the poorly treated disorder autism. A combination of electrophysiology, live imaging and molecular approaches are used.

Prof Leigh Hale
Clinical neurorehabilitation; Fall prevention in older adults and adults with intellectual disabilities, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease; Use of virtual reality in stroke rehabilitation; facilitating Self-management following stroke, Measuring physical activity with accelerometry in people with neurological dysfunction; facilitating physical activity in people with disability.

Prof Holger Regenbrecht
Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Augmented reality, 3D Teleconferencing, psychological aspects of Mixed Reality, three-dimensional user interfaces (3DU) and computer-aided therapy and rehabilitation.

Assoc Prof Stephanie Hughes
Identifying molecular pathways that regulate neuronal development, maintenance and disease; Transcription factors of the forebrain embryonic zinc finger family and their role in neuronal development and maintenance; and on the molecular consequences of mutations in Batten disease, a childhood neurodegenerative disorder. Developing tools and gene therapy vectors for Batten disease as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Development and packaging of novel lentiviral and AAV vectors.

Prof Brian Hyland
Neurophysiology of midbrain dopamine systems and pathways which modulate dopamine neuron activity. Effects of abnormal dopamine activity, such as occurs in Parkinson’s disease, on activity in the motor control pathways.

Assoc Prof Steve Kerr
Pharmacological preconditioning; CNS neuroprotection and the super-sensitivity of the aged brain to excitotoxic insult; cardiac damage following seizures (SUDEP). Using electrophysiological, anatomical, behavioural and molecular approaches.

Assoc Prof Ping Liu
Neurobiological basis and intervention of cognitive decline associated with ageing and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as schizophrenia; Biological basis of learning and memory. Expertise in a combination of behavioural, in vivo microdialysis, neurochemical, molecular biological, immunohistochemical and electrophysiological approaches.

Assoc Prof Liana Machado
Neuropsychology and cognitive psychology expert. Her research investigates cognitive deficits that emerge as a result of brain disease and healthy ageing, and methods by which these deficits can be minimized via simple accessible methods.

Prof Pauline Norris
Research focuses on access to, and use of, medicines. Particular interest in how lay people understand and use medicines, and looking at particular population groups and barriers they face in accessing and using safe and appropriate medicines. I use both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Research in the Pacific and with Pacific people in New Zealand, medicines use in Tairawhiti, medications in everyday life.

Assoc Prof Louise Parr-Brownlie
Neural mechanisms underlying voluntary movements and the movement deficits of Parkinson’s disease. Motor thalamus and motor cortex function are being explored using cutting-edge optogenetic technology that enables characterisation and manipulation of part of the basal ganglia-thalamocortical pathway. Optogenetic modulation of brain activity in an animal model of Parkinson’s disease to learn how this alters motor thalamus and motor cortex activity, and behaviour. Electrophysiological, behavioural and immunohistochemical techniques.

Prof Richie Poulton
Developmental psychopathology, gene X environment prediction of complex disorders, and psychosocial determinants of chronic physical disease. Dunedin Longitudinal Study.

Prof John Reynolds
Learning and memory mechanisms in the basal ganglia and cortex in the mammalian brain, with a particular focus on normal and disordered synaptic mechanisms in Parkinson’s disease and stroke. Expertise in electrophysiological recording, molecular biology, immunohistochemistry and operant behaviour.

Prof Dirk De Ridder
Pathophysiological mechanisms clustering groups of pathologies, such as thalamocortical dysrhythmias (pain, tinnitus, epilepsy, depression, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia) or obsessive compulsive spectrum disorder; clinical neuromodulation; and neural correlates of the “self” how the self is generated in the brain, its relation to the environment (e.g. of importance in MCI and dementia), to others and god. Expertise in interpreting functional imaging data (PET, fMRI, EEG, MEG), and the application of non-invasive neuromodulation techniques (TMS, tDCS, tRNS, tACS, EEG feedback) and invasive brain implantation techniques.

Prof Ted Ruffman
Social understanding in infants, children and in young and older adults; whether emotion recognition, understanding of social gaffes, and the ability to detect a lie deteriorate in older adulthood; gambling behaviour in older adults.

Assoc Prof Phil Sheard
Sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength that has profound implications for the elderly. He is specifically interested in the role of the motor nerve terminal because progressive withdrawal of the motor nerve from the muscle fibre seems to be a conspicuous feature of elderly muscle. He is currently examining age-related changes to the neuromuscular junction with a view to using this information to establish whether motor nerve withdrawal is a cause of muscle fibre death, or a consequence of it. Associate Professor Sheard uses electrophysiology, electron microscopy, confocal microscopy, fluorescence and transmitted light microscopy, histochemistry, immunohistochemistry, and anterograde and retrograde cell tracing techniques.

Prof Paul Smith
Vestibular and auditory systems; Vestibular dysfunction and tinnitus; Effects of vestibular damage on the hippocampus; effects of cannabis on the brain; and applications of statistics to pharmacology. The effects of vestibular and auditory damage on the brainstem vestibular and cochlear nuclei, and other areas of the CNS such as the cerebellum and medial temporal lobe.

Emeritus Prof Warren Tate
Understanding protein synthesis and, in particular, decoding and recoding mechanisms on the ribosome at stop signals; molecular mechanisms of mammalian memory and how they are impaired in human neurological diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s.

Assoc Prof Joanna Williams
Understanding the molecular steps involved in memory formation, maintenance of memories and identifying how these are perturbed in disease. Expertise in modern molecular biological, bioinformatics and proteomic techniques focused on the regulation of key glutamate receptors and how gene expression is altered in response to memory events.

Assoc Prof Yiwen Zheng
Understanding the underlying mechanisms of tinnitus and developing target-specific therapies through drugs and brain stimulation techniques. Expertise in a range of biochemical, electrophysiological and behavioural approaches.

University of Otago – Christchurch

Prof Tim Anderson
Human movement and oculomotor disorders, with particular focus on Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease; Identification of biomarkers, and predictors, of cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease. Identification and treatment of mild cognitive impairment as a pre-Alzheimer’s state.

Dr Tracy Melzer
Brain development and other neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s disease. Expertise in MRI.


Assoc Prof Michael Black
Analysis of data from gene expression microarray experiments, Bayesian statistical methods, and statistical computing.

Assoc Prof Anne-Marie Jackson
Māori physical education and health; Tangaroa and the marine environment; waka and water safety; and indigenous science.  She primarily utilises kaupapa Māori theory and is strongly grounded in praxis, namely through running hui and wānanga with Māori communities.

Dr Ailsa McGregor
Neurodegenerative diseases, neuroprotection and repair, in particular the development of disease models with clinically relevant endpoints for investigating potential therapies. Ailsa’s research focuses on pharmacological enhancement of motor recovery after stroke and cholinergic dysfunction in Huntington’s Disease and vascular dementia.

Dr Toni Pitcher
MRI in PD, saccadic eye movement deficits in PD, pharmacoepidemiology, genetic risk factors in PD

Dr Moana Theodore (Ngāpuhi, Te Arawa)
Lifecourse research, with particular interest in Effective interventions (e.g. quality kaupapa Māori early life and whānau programming) leading to improved outcomes (e.g. health) later in life for tamariki (children). Tools to measure Māori psychological constructs. Interface research approach between mātauranga Māori and Western science.

Prof Ian Tucker
Delivery systems for optimal delivery of bioactives; Absorption processes to achieve optimal delivery of bioactives to target organs/cells. Expertise in cell culture studies, electron microscopy, in vivo studies including microdialysis, analytical methods (LCMS, radiotracer).