Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Otago uni appoints new director

The University of Otago has announced the appointment of Associate Professor Moana Theodore (Ngāpuhi) as the new Director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (Dunedin Study).

Associate Professor Theodore is the third Director in 51 years of the Dunedin Study, and says she recognises the honour and responsibility of leading a Study that is world-famous and a national taonga (treasure).

“The Dunedin Study would not be possible without the Study members who are the centre of the Study and who freely give the gift of information about their lives for the benefit of all,” Associate Professor Theodore says.

“Without that ongoing generosity of the Study members and their families, the Study would not have the long-term impact that it does.”

The Dunedin Study was founded by Dr Phil Silva (OBE) with the support of Dr Patricia Buckfield in 1972–73. Dr Silva directed the Study until 2000, when Professor Poulton became the Study’s Director.

Associate Professor Theodore’s first involvement with the Dunedin Study was in 1998, when Dr Silva employed her as an interviewer on the age 26 assessment phase. She then returned to the Dunedin Study in 2010 for a post-doctoral fellowship mentored by Professor Poulton, alongside who she has co-directed the National Centre for Lifecourse Research since 2016.

“Both Phil and Richie were amazing mentors and supported me from the very start of my career, reinforcing key Study values. That we treat the Study members the way that we would want to be treated ourselves, because they are the true heroes of the Study,” Associate Professor Theodore says.

“I also recognise that the Dunedin Study has at its heart the people of Dunedin, who from the earliest stages provided interviewers, encouraged their children to attend assessments, and have stood by the Study for 51 years. It has been overwhelming for myself and the team to feel the outpouring of aroha (love) from the Dunedin community for Richie and the Dunedin Study as we have grieved for our friend and mentor.”

Her appointment follows the retirement of Emeritus Distinguished Professor Richie Poulton (CNZM,FRSNZ), who died recently.

Chair of the Dunedin Study Governance Group, Laura Black says that while the mourning of Professor Poulton’s passing continues, the Governance Group is grateful to Associate Professor Theodore for her willingness to take on the role of Director.

“As is traditional for Directors of the Study, Moana is a passionate, thoughtful, and able researcher with a track record of strong contribution to the life sciences,” Ms Black says.

“The Governance Group is confident that Moana’s leadership of and vision for the Study as it enters its next phase will enable the Study’s contribution to the body of lifecourse knowledge and development of public policy to become even more significant.”

Pro Vice Chancellor Sciences, Professor Richard Barker says the appointment of Associate Professor Theodore will continue to build on Professor Poulton’s valuable legacy.

“Moana has clearly demonstrated the vision and skills required to lead the Dunedin Study as it moves into its next phase and beyond and continue the legacy of research that informs and improves the health and wellbeing of current and future generations,” he said.

Preparations are now well underway for assessment phase 52 – when Study members are age 52 years – to begin in April 2024.

Associate Professor Theodore says the small team of committed long-serving Dunedin Study staff will preserve the legacy laid down by Professor Poulton, Dr Silva, and all past researchers.

“The 1,000 Study members will tell us how and why humans age the way that they do and that can help us to changes lives both here, in New Zealand, and overseas,” she said.

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