Robust regulations needed for medicinal cannabis

Source: ESR

One of the country’s main drug testing laboratories says robust regulations are needed to cover locally produced medicinal cannabis.

ESR says with Parliament having given the green light permitting a medicinal cannabis industry, it’s crucial that an evidence-based regulatory process is developed that defines strict quality standards.

ESR’s Manager of Forensic Toxicology and Pharmaceuticals, Mary Jane McCarthy, says there also needs to be robust safety data to ensure the products are safe and are shown not to cause harm to the people that use them.

 She says there is a lot of confusion about medicinal cannabis.

 “Our concern is that people don’t necessarily know or understand what is in the product they are taking.”

 “We have had a number of the medicinal cannabis products available here in New Zealand – supplied to us by concerned patients and parents – and our tests have shown that there’s quite a lot of variability in the quality of products with some difference in the concentrations of the active ingredients,” Dr McCarthy says.

That includes tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis, and cannabidiol (CBD), which is not psychoactive. CBD has now been rescheduled so that it is no longer a controlled drug and is only a prescription medicine under the new law changes. Products containing it should become more available to patients from now on.

 “We see a range of products – imported and homemade. Some of them have much higher concentrations of THC than they are stated to.

 “We really do need to be testing and understanding the safety of these products and make sure they are effective for the condition which they are being used for, and won’t cause harm, she says.

 She cites one instance when a worried grandfather contacted ESR about the product his grandchild was using for uncontrolled epilepsy.

 “In this case, there should have been high CBD and low THC – in fact it was the opposite. I would be very worried about a child taking a product like that.”

 ESR already provides testing services for pharmaceutical products for New Zealand and the Ministry of Health.

 It is also part of the Medicinal Cannabis Research Working Group, a collaborative of both New Zealand and international expert specialists in medicinal cannabis research. The group has been set up in advance of upcoming clinical trials, which, once approved, will be the first time a locally grown pharmaceutical grade cannabis product will be tested on New Zealand trial participants.

 ESR will carry out the chemical testing on any pharmaceutical grade cannabis being used in the trial and will also be testing patient results.

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Exploring Yersinia and yersiniosis in New Zealand Workshop

Source: ESR

Little is understood about Yersinia and yersiniosis in New Zealand. This is a dangerous pathogen which affects the health of people and animals and has the potential to compromise food safety. ESR, in collaboration with the Ministry of Primary Industries and the New Zealand Food Safety Science and Research Centre, invites those working on, or interested in, Yersinia or yersiniosis in New Zealand to a one-day technical workshop.

Date: Tuesday 26th March 2019, from 10 am to 3 pm.

Location: New Zealand Food Safety, 147 Lambton Quay, Wellington.

Registration: Yersinia Workshop (external link)

The workshop will provide an invaluable opportunity for you to contribute to discussions over the current state of knowledge of this important pathogen and to identify priority areas for future research. It is a chance to build connections and share information with others working with Yersinia and yersiniosis.

We will bring together New Zealand perspectives on:

–       Yersiniosis and Yersinia in public health

–       Yersiniosis and Yersinia among animals

–       Yersinia in the environment

–       Yersinia in foods

–       Methods: Challenges and current efforts

After the workshop, participants will be invited to indicate their interest in participating in a working group and/or contributing to a review paper. Places are limited, so register by 8 March 2019 to secure your spot at this key workshop.

For more information contact

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ESR scientists show women well and truly closing the gender gap

Source: ESR

The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) is helping to lead the way in addressing the gender gap if the numbers of women scientists on its staff are anything to go by.

At ESR, women make up 63 percent of the workforce, with 80 percent of ESR’s laboratory technicians being female.

International data shows less than 30 per cent of the world’s researchers are women.

Today (January 11) is International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

In New Zealand, and internationally, there has been a drive over the past 15 years to inspire and engage women and girls in science.

However, research shows they are still excluded from participating fully in science with long-standing biases and gender stereotypes putting girls off science related fields

One of ESR’s newest scientists, Charlotte Gilkison, says she was very surprised by the number of women on the staff when she joined ESR last year.

“It is really encouraging.”

An epidemiology analyst, Charlotte (25) says she is loving the work.

She says she didn’t particularly feel encouraged to take up sciences at secondary school with a view to working in science.

“I’ve always loved science. At college, I took biology, chemistry and physics. But it felt like I and other girls in my year were pushed towards more traditional careers, such as nursing.

“High school was not good at pointing the way to jobs in science. But, I followed my interest. When I started tertiary study I was put off by the thought of lab work, which didn’t appeal to me, but I persevered and discovered a passion for microbiology.”

Charlotte says she hasn’t found that she has been treated any differently from male counterparts.

“Not at university. But after I graduated what I did find was that I just lacked the confidence when it came to applying for work. My male peers seemed to have no second thoughts putting themselves forward for jobs, while it was a little harder for me.”

She says she’s very happy with the choice she made and has discovered there are a wealth of opportunities.

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ESR “treasure” helping in global fight against meningococcal disease

Source: ESR

ESR’s “enormous treasure” of samples from New Zealand’s meningococcal disease epidemic of the 1990s and early 2000s is expected to provide valuable clues in the global fight against invasive meningococcal disease.

The importance of ESR’s collection of isolates has been stressed by a visiting expert and ESR research collaborator, Professor Martin Maiden.

 A professor of molecular epidemiology at Oxford University, Professor Maiden has been working on a large research project with ESR scientists Phil Carter and Una Ren, looking at the 20-year-long New Zealand epidemic.

He says one of the great things about a country like New Zealand is its high standard of infrastructure, of which ESR is an integral part. The meningococcal isolate collection from the epidemic was funded by the Ministry of Health.

“That means that epidemic is very well documented and all the isolates – more or less every one – was collected and held at ESR. That was an enormous treasure for the future.”

 And now, he says, that future is here.  

 “What was not available back then during the epidemic was the ability to do cost effective genome sequencing – and that is something I’ve been working up the technology for,” Professor Maiden says.

“So we are looking at that archive of material to get clues of what happened during the epidemic – why it happened, how it happened.  And by learning about it we can hopefully avoid it happening in the future, or be able to react against epidemics much better in times to come.”

 Professor Maiden says major strides have been made in the understanding of meningococcal disease, but there is still a lot that isn’t known.

 “It’s rather like an extremely complicated Sudoku!” he says.

 He says the disease is always coming up with a new surprising change.

 “For example, rates were going down but suddenly this W clone globally appears and comes at us.  It was totally unanticipated.

 “That’s why you need surveillance – otherwise, you’re always playing catch-up.”

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MIL-OSI New Zealand: ESR Masters student Kent Onesemo taking forensic skills home to Samoa

Source: ESR

ESR Masters student Kent Onesemo will soon return to his work in Samoa Police Forensics, armed with the skills and experience gained by spending time with ESR’s Drug Chemistry team.

Onesemo says his ultimate goal would be to improve the reliability of forensic evidence in Samoa.  

However, perhaps one of the most important lessons he learnt during his time studying in Auckland is to ask for help if necessary.

Onesemo, the recipient of a Science Support Award from the University of Auckland, says he would have struggled to afford his studies without the scholarship.

He chose to come to the university because he was able to study for his masters in conjunction with ESR, the sole provider of forensic work to the New Zealand Police.

“Back home in Samoa I’m mainly a field officer, but studying for my masters here in New Zealand allows me to observe and experience first-hand how forensic analysis is completed in the laboratory setting.”

“I’ve found my time with ESR very valuable and my ultimate goal would be to improve the reliability of forensic evidence in Samoan and increase the use of forensics in court rooms.”

He’d also love to teach forensics in Samoa and make a difference with the career choices that young people make

“The career opportunities for graduating students with backgrounds in chemistry and biology are limited to the health sector. Often students are forced to change career paths despite their passion being with these subjects.

“Having the Forensics division with the Samoa Police allows another career avenue for students who can use their knowledge to help with police investigations and furthermore increase the standard of forensics in the Pacific.”

The Science Support Award really helped him with the financial struggles he experienced living in Auckland, and he points out that for international students there is a range of help and support groups dedicated to helping students achieve their academic goals.

“There are some difficulties for international students, such as language barriers and culture shock, which can really affect your ability to stay focused,” he says.

“The best advice I can give is always to ask for help.”

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