Research Interests

Suetonia Palmer is a nephrologist (kidney specialist) who does research and teaches at the University of Otago Christchurch and at Christchurch Hospital. Suetonia has particular interests in evaluating the effectiveness and safety of healthcare and patient experiences of  chronic kidney disease.

She was appointed an editor with Cochrane Kidney and Transplant in 2011 and has strong collaborative links with researchers in Australia, Europe and Canada. Suetonia teaches undergraduate medicine at the University of Otago Christchurch in Medicine and Hauora Maori (Maori Health). Suetonia welcomes contact from medical students who would like to do a Bachelor of Medical Science (with honours) or a Summer Studentship, and anyone who would like to consider doing a Masters or PhD.



Cochrane reviews




Suetonia’s research program now includes working with the:

  • Caring for Australasians with Renal Impairment guidelines to develop clinical practice guidelines for care of kidney disease based on the best available evidence (Steering Committee)
  • Cochrane Kidney and Transplant to develop summaries of the best evidence for kidney disease (Editor and Podcast Editor)
  • Australasian Kidney Trials Network (AKTN) to generate new trials to test treatments for people with kidney disease (Scientific Committee)
  • ANZDATA registry (to generate the best evidence for measuring the quality of care for people treated with (Steering Committee and convener, Indigenous Health Working Group)


Research story

In less than a decade, Christchurch-based kidney specialist Associate Professor Suetonia Palmer has gone from being a Health Research Council Clinical Research Training Fellow (2006-8) to an internationally recognised and cited researcher in identifying the best and safest treatments for kidney disease and diabetes. Associate Professor Palmer says it was her experience as a junior doctor working in the wards where she saw evidence of a disconnect between the way medicines are used and the available scientific evidence:

“We often practised medicine out of synch with the scientific literature. And worse, there was information overload. The sheer number of studies was simply too many for doctors to keep ahead of and use when choosing treatments.

“I learned about meta-analysis, a way to combine all the available data for a particular question about how to care for a patient – and just as importantly, to learn how confident we might be in the results of all existing clinical trials.”

Associate Professor Palmer describes her HRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship in 2006 as a turning point in her passion for doing research, allowing me to put down my stethoscope for an uninterrupted three years of learning scientific method with some amazing mentors and supervisors. This brought early success with publications in the Annals of Internal Medicine and the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrating that the evidentiary basis for many medical decisions in her field was still lacking. These publications helped her gain a Don and Lorraine Jacquot Fellowship from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, which provided funding to pursue post-doctoral training anywhere in the world.

Associate Professor Palmer chose Harvard Medical School and after two years of research work examining the intricate immunological processes in kidney injury, she returned to post-quake Christchurch in early 2011 as a senior lecturer, before being made Associate Professor in 2015. Further papers followed in Annals of Internal Medicine and PLoS Medicine with a supportive and inspiring group of international kidney specialists, she still works with.

An HRC Emerging Research Grant then enabled her to employ research assistance and develop an innovative technique to examine whether drugs have the intended effects we use them for.

“It is time-consuming work, poring through the scientific literature to find relevant studies and extract the key data points,” Associate Professor Palmer explains.

“Having another pair of hands, supported by the HRC, was an incredible springboard to productivity and output. The work spurred a keen interest in actually doing clinical trials, to plug the gaps in our knowledge revealed by meta-analysis.”

Associate Professor Palmer was asked to join the Australasian Kidney Trials Network (as the only New Zealander on the scientific committee) and became involved in a large binational clinical trial. Along with other New Zealanders (Dr Janak de Zoysa and Professor Rob Walker), they gained HRC project funding to do a trial in New Zealand – examining whether a gout drug, allopurinol, can protect kidney function.  This expanding program of research and accompanying publications – together with support from an international collaboration – enabled a track record and work program sufficiently innovative and competitive to secure a prestigious Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for five years. She has used this funding already to generate a Lancet publication in 2015 – accumulating information about blood pressure care in 45,000 patients with diabetes.

“This has also newly allowed me to focus on important questions, have more pairs of hands to help with the day to day work, and use my skills to support others. I have been lucky enough to work with Tania Huria (Ngai Tahu) with her HRC funded PhD ‘Created Equal’ – exploring system responses to disparity in New Zealand health care – and combine my research time with returning to the hospital wards.

Caring for kidney patients, for whom the research questions are never abstract, keeps me grounded in reality”

“None of this would have been possible without the initial support and confidence in research given to me by an HRC Clinical Training Fellowship right back at the beginning in 2006.”


Career highlights summary: 2015 – HRC Project Grant ($990,685) for a randomised trial of allopurinol versus placebo in Australia and New Zealand kidney patients. This also involves ongoing leadership in the Australasian Kidney Trials Network scientific committee to develop innovative trial methodology in New Zealand (PI Dr Janak de Zoysa).

2013 – HRC Emerging Researcher First Grant ($138,789) which has facilitated innovative methodology to detect whether drugs have anticipated benefits for patients. This strengthened collaboration with international partners and resulted in publications arising from these collaborations.

2015 – HRC Maori Health Research Scholarship ($74,616) for PhD student Tania Huria – Created Equal: Investigating Health System perspectives of disparities. This is also developing and strengthening capacity-building and collaboration.

2006 – 2008 – HRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship. This supported the development of both Dr Palmer’s career and competitive resume, allowing her to gain a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School in 2009-2010.

2015 – Lancet paper – Comparative efficacy and safety of blood pressure lowering agents in adults with diabetes and kidney disease: A network meta-analysis.

2015 – Carl Smith and Rowheath Trust Fellowship for outstanding research performance of Early Career Staff at the University of Otago (co-awarded with Dr Jessica Palmer in Law).

2014-2019 Royal Society of New Zealand Rutherford Discovery Fellowship.

2012 – L’Oréal UNESCO Australia and New Zealand For Women in Science Fellow. This is a highly prestigious award and Dr Palmer is the first and only New Zealand woman to have won the prize.