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Funding body gives strong support to Otago’s health research

Clocktower clock

Wednesday, 15 June 2016 2:30pm

University of Otago researchers have been awarded around $43.8M in new health research funding to support their world-class studies aimed at improving New Zealanders’ health and well-being.



In the latest Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand annual funding round, more than $100 million in grants has been allocated nationally towards a range of programmes and projects to be undertaken by researchers throughout New Zealand.

Otago researchers gained 22 contracts, including five major multi-million-dollar, five-year programmes and 17 projects, each of which attracts more than one million dollars in funding. 

Otago’s recipients are from across the University’s campuses in Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington and each campus hosts at least one of the major new programmes to receive funding.

Success in funding round reflects excellence of Otago researchers

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise, Professor Richard Blaikie, warmly congratulated all Otago’s HRC funding recipients, saying their outstanding success in the round is testament to their world-class research proposals.

“It is fantastic to see the recent commitment of increased HRC funding translate immediately into such a significant increase in the number of projects supported. It is heartening that the great promise of our researchers’ studies for improving the health and well-being of New Zealanders has been recognised and backed by the HRC and the Government. These staff are carrying on a proud Otago research tradition of contributing to knowledge and actions that will benefit patients, families, communities and the nation as a whole, and we wish them every success in their work,” Professor Blaikie says.

Good support given to long-running Christchurch and Dunedin Studies, and research into Alzheimer’s, preventive health interventions; also Māori women’s and children’s health

One of the two Dunedin campus-based programmes supports the work of the world-renowned Dunedin Study led by Professor Richie Poulton (Psychology), which has followed nearly all aspects of the health and development of more than 1000 people born in Dunedin in 1972-73. The Study will investigate ageing processes in its members to inform early intervention strategies to help people age as healthily as possible. Such strategies require identifying risk factors in early-to-midlife that can be ameliorated or reversed, well before the onset of age-related disease. The researchers will be uncovering why some people age faster than others, and why some fortunate people age more slowly than their age-peers.

A Wellington programme will model preventive interventions to improve health and social outcomes. Professor Tony Blakely (Public Health) will lead a team focusing on dietary and physical activity interventions, and will also assess these and other interventions specifically for populations with a particular risk of cardiovascular disease. They will also look at how these preventive interventions contribute to a healthier working-age population and which interventions increase quality of life among older people. This research aims to inform decisions on how to best spend limited health resources in a way that improves health outcomes for New Zealanders.

The Christchurch Health and Development Study has been given programme funding to extend research which follows a group of 1265 Christchurch-born children to age 40. The researchers, led by Associate Professor John Horwood (Psychological Medicine), will investigate long-term mental health consequences of exposure to the Canterbury earthquakes; the consequences of alcohol and cannabis use and misuse to age 40; psychosocial and functional impairment resulting from chronic/recurrent mental health disorders; long-term consequences of exposure to maltreatment in childhood; genes, environment and mental disorders; developing a Te Ao Maori perspective; and translation of research findings to policy outputs.

A second Wellington programme aims to tackle the social and health disadvantages that Māori pregnant women and their tamariki (children) face up to age five, which is a crucial window for good health outcomes and long-term achievements of children as adolescents and adults. Led by Associate Professor Beverley Lawton (Primary Health Care & General Practice) the three projects within the programme are: a community intervention that will integrate maternal and child care services into one care pathway; and two projects which explore preterm delivery (prematurity) which is a major contributor to disability and death for Māori.

The second Dunedin campus-based programmes focuses on delving into the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease so that more effective therapies can be developed. The researchers, led by Professor Cliff Abraham (Psychology, and co-Director of the Brain Research New Zealand CoRE), will study molecules in the post-mortem Alzheimer brain that may be key players in the disease process, and use new and improved models of the disease to determine if these correlate with the development of the disease from its earliest stages. The research will extend understanding of how we can harness the brain’s own neuroprotective and memory-enhancing molecules to fight the disease.

17 new Otago projects to tackle wide range of health issues affecting New Zealanders

A wide range of innovative Otago health research projects have also been supported in the latest HRC round. Their topics range from world-class basic biomedical investigations through to public health research aimed at tackling smoking disparities between Māori and non-Māori.

Several projects involve cutting-edge neuroscience research. Two projects in this field will investigate different aspects of the brain’s master control of fertility to gain knowledge that will underpin new treatments for infertility and lead to new contraceptives. Other projects focus on the neural systems involved in stress and anxiety, and body weight regulation and obesity, respectively.
Christchurch heart health researchers have gained funding for projects investigating a new biomarker for diagnosing heart attacks and whether an existing heart failure drug can also treat irregular heart rhythms in patients with pacemakers. Other Christchurch campus projects will probe the genetic basis of adverse drug reactions and seek to develop best practice guidelines for treating bipolar disorder in Māori.

Two Wellington campus projects focus on infectious diseases in young people; one will study the causes of rheumatic fever in New Zealand children, who have high rates of the condition, while another investigates whether taking daily probiotics can prevent upper respiratory infections in infants.

Among the Dunedin campus projects are studies into overcoming drug resistance in TB and fungal infections, respectively. The TB project will work to repurpose a diuretic drug into a new treatment for TB, including its drug resistant forms, while another team aims to identify and develop next-generation antifungals to augment existing treatments that are prone to drug resistance.

Another project focuses on parenting by Dunedin Study members and the well-being of their teenage children. Its aim is to understand how health, well-being, and lifestyle transfer between parents and children and what protects children from or increases their risk of developing problems.

Other Dunedin campus projects include studying why some prediabetes patients and not others revert to normal blood sugar regulation, how to support informed e-cigarette use through communicating the devices’ potential risks and benefits, and mining coronial databases to gain a truer picture of New Zealand’s work-related fatality rates.

Otago’s HRC annual round funding recipients:

Programmes:

Harnessing brain mechanisms to tackle Alzheimer’s Disease

Professor Cliff Abraham (Psychology)
$4,933,052

BODE3: Modelling preventive interventions to improve health and social outcomes

Professor Tony Blakely (Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington)
$4,945,837

The Christchurch Health and Development Study - Birth to 40 years

Associate Professor John Horwood (Psychological Medicine University of Otago, Christchurch)
$4,363,673

Whanau Manaaki

Associate Professor Beverley Lawton (Primary Health Care & General Practice, University of Otago Wellington)
$4,697,067

A lifecourse study on aging processes to inform early intervention strategies

Professor Richie Poulton (Psychology)
$4,994,717

Projects:

Targeting the RFRP neuronal system to control stress and anxiety

Associate Professor Greg Anderson (Anatomy)
$1,189,211

Understanding GAS pharyngitis and skin infections as causes of rheumatic fever

Professor Michael Baker (Public Health, University of Otago Wellington)
$1,197,694

Repurposing Amiloride Derivatives as New Agents for Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis

Professor Greg Cook (Microbiology & Immunology)
$1,186,405

What predicts regression from prediabetes to normal glucose regulation?

Dr Kirsten Coppell (Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine)
$1,111,511

Preventing Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in Infancy

Professor Julian Crane (Medicine, University of Otago Wellington)
$1,198,437

Role of hypothalamic beta-catenin in body weight regulation

Professor David Grattan (Anatomy)
$1,195,100

The Next Generation Studies

Associate Professor Bob Hancox (Preventive & Social Medicine)
$1,195,332

Generating pulses with KNDy neurons

Professor Allan Herbison (Physiology)
$1,121,058

Supporting informed e-cigarette use: A mixed methods study

Professor Janet Hoek (Marketing)
$1,196,668

Genomic analysis of adverse drug reactions

Professor Martin Kennedy (Pathology, University of Otago, Christchurch)
$1,186,142

Maori and Bipolar Disorder

Dr Cameron Lacey (Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)
$1,181,031

Creating safer workplaces: understanding our work related fatalities

Dr Rebbecca Lilley (Preventive & Social Medicine)
$1,191,876

Structure-directed discovery of next-generation antifungals

Associate Professor Brian Monk (Oral Sciences)
$1,197,552

Novel biomarker for Acute Coronary Syndromes

Associate Professor Christopher Pemberton (Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)
$1,164,059

Timekeeping in the neural network controlling fertility

Dr Richard Piet (Physiology)
$1,074,371

Reducing the burden of atrial fibrillation

Professor Richard Troughton (Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)
$1,087,437

Te Ara Auahi Kore (TAKE)

Mr Anaru Waa (Public Health, University of Otago Wellington)
$1,189,414

More details: Otago’s HRC-funded Programmes and Projects

(Only the first named investigator is listed here)

Programmes:

Harnessing brain mechanisms to tackle Alzheimer’s disease

Professor Cliff Abraham (Psychology)
$4,933,052
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) presents an enormous and growing health, social and economic challenge for New Zealand, which has a dramatically aging demographic. AD is not treatable, and inflicts societal costs greater than cancer, heart disease and stroke combined. This Programme of research focuses on learning more about the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease so that more effective therapies can be developed. We will study molecules in the post-mortem Alzheimer brain that may be key players in the disease process, and use new and improved models of the disease to determine if these correlate with the development of the disease from its earliest stages. We will then undertake preclinical tests of novel therapeutic strategies, building on our recent successes in this regard. This research will extend understanding of how we can harness the brain’s own neuroprotective and memory-enhancing molecules to fight the disease.

Other Otago named investigators:


Dr Joanna Williams, Associate Professor Ping Liu, Dr Stephanie Hughes, Professor Warren Tate, Dr Hu Zhang, Dr Bruce Mockett, Dr Yu Jing, Dr Lucia Schweitzer

^ Back to list


BODE3: Modelling preventive interventions to improve health and social outcomes

Professor Tony Blakely (Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington)
$4,945,837

This BODE3 program will use modelling to estimate health and wider societal benefits, costs, cost-effectiveness, and impact on inequalities of a range of preventive interventions. We will be focusing on dietary and physical activity interventions, and will also assess these and other interventions specifically for populations with a particular risk of cardiovascular disease.
We will also look at how these preventive interventions contribute to a healthier working-age population. Which interventions provide maximal health gain for working-age adults? Which interventions increase productivity and reduce welfare payments? Which interventions increase quality of life among older people? These questions are especially important as life expectancy continues to increase.

We will be building capacity, nationally and internationally, in epidemiological and cost-effectiveness modelling research. This research can inform decisions on how to best spend limited health resources in a way that improves health outcomes for New Zealanders.

Other Otago named investigators:


Professor Nick Wilson, Dr Christine Cleghorn, Dr Melissa McLeod, Dr Giorgi Kvizhinadze, Dr Nhung Nghiem, Mr William Leung, Ms June Atkinson, Dr Nisha Nair

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The Christchurch Health and Development Study - Birth to 40 years

Associate Professor John Horwood (Psychological Medicine University of Otago, Christchurch)
$4,363,673

The Christchurch Health and Development Study is a longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1265 Christchurch-born children who have been studied to the age of 35. This application seeks funding to extend this research to age 40. Research objectives include: long-term mental health consequences of exposure to the Canterbury Earthquakes; the consequences of alcohol and cannabis use and misuse to age 40; psychosocial and functional impairment resulting from chronic/recurrent mental health disorders; long-term consequences of exposure to maltreatment in childhood; genes, environment and mental disorders; developing a Te Ao Maori perspective; and translation of research findings to policy outputs. To achieve these outcomes the cohort will be interviewed at age 40 on a comprehensive interview relating to social background, economic and personal circumstances, mental health and related measures. The study will contribute both to the scientific literature in these areas, and inform health/social policy development in New Zealand.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Associate Professor Joseph Boden, Professor Roger Mulder, Professor Martin Kennedy, Dr John Pearson, Professor David Fergusson, Dr Geraldine McLeod, Associate Professor Caroline Bell, Dr James Foulds

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Whanau Manaaki

Associate Professor Beverley Lawton (Primary Health Care & General Practice, University of Otago Wellington)
$4,697,067

The first years of life starting from pregnancy are crucial for good health outcomes and long-term achievements of children as adolescents and adults. However for Maori pregnant women and their tamariki (children) the social and health disadvantages are stark. This Kaupapa Māori programme called Whānau Manaaki puts Māori pregnant women and children at the center to explore the health care delivery system and structural determinants of health (e.g. housing, racism, transport, income, education) that impact on the health of Māori women and their babies, and whānau. The 3 projects are: a community intervention that will integrate maternal and child care services into one care pathway; and 2 projects which explore preterm delivery (prematurity) which is a major contributor to disability and death for Māori. This programme of work is led by Maori and will lead to maternity/ child care that works for Māori, leading to improved whānau health and well-being.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Dr Liza Edmonds, Ms Bridget Robson, Miss Kendall Stevenson, Ms Anna Adcock, Dr Angela Beard , Dr Sara Filoche, Mrs Francesca Storey, Dr Dalice Sim, Dr Pauline Koopu, Ms Karen Daniells

^ Back to list

A lifecourse study on aging processes to inform early intervention strategies

Professor Richie Poulton (Psychology)
$4,994,717

As the population ages and life expectancy increases, policy-makers and citizens are concerned that our extra years should be healthy, productive, and enjoyable, not extra years of disease and disability. Finding new strategies to prevent age-related disease and disability requires identification of risk factors in early-to-midlife that can be ameliorated or reversed, well before the onset of age-related disease. This recognition lends new scientific significance to studies that have followed cohorts from childhood to midlife, including the Dunedin Study. The proposed work will use biomarker data collected from the same 1000 individuals at ages 26, 32, 38, and 45 to track the pace of their biological aging. We will uncover why some people age faster than others, and why some fortunate people age more slowly than their age-peers. Findings are expected to support interventions to slow aging, prevent age-related diseases, and enhance preparedness for wellbeing in later life.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Associate Professor Joanne Baxter, Dr Jonathan Broadbent, Professor Murray Thomson, Dr Simon Chapple, Professor Jennie Connor, Associate Professor Nigel Dickson, Associate Professor Bob Hancox, Dr Sandhya Ramrakha, Professor Wickliffe Abraham, Professor Tim Anderson, Professor David Baxter, Professor Antony Braithwaite, Dr Lyndie Foster-Page, Professor Leigh Hale, Dr Ramakrishnan Mani, Professor Jim Mann, Dr Rachael McLean, Dr Tracy Melzer, Ms Alida Righarts, Dr Kirsten Robertson, Professor Stephen Robertson, Dr Lisa Te Morenga, Dr Reremoana Theodore, Professor Robert Walker, Associate Professor Debra Waters, Professor Prof Michael Williams, Associate Professor Sarah Young

^ Back to list

Projects:

Targeting the RFRP neuronal system to control stress and anxiety

Associate Professor Greg Anderson (Anatomy)
$1,189,211

Hyperactivity of the stress axis is thought to be one of the fundamental underlying drivers of psychiatric conditions such as generalised anxiety and depression. This has led us and others to develop pharmacological approaches to modify neural stress pathways in the brain. Along these lines, we have recently discovered that the neuropeptide RFRP-3 induces anxious behaviour and enhances acute stress responses in mice. Remarkably, blockade of its receptor with a novel antagonist called GJ14 overcomes these responses. Using powerful new transgenic mouse lines and single cellular through to in vivo behavioural measurements, we will evaluate the role of RFRP-3 on activity of the cells controlling the stress axis, stress hormone secretion and various anxiety-related behaviours. We will then develop and evaluate new RFRP-3 receptor antagonists with improved ability to enter the brain following oral delivery, potentially opening an entirely new avenue for treating stress and anxiety related disorders.

Other Otago Named Investigators:


Dr Karl Iremonger, Associate Professor Joel Tyndall, Dr Andrea Vernall

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Understanding GAS pharyngitis and skin infections as causes of rheumatic fever

Professor Michael Baker (Public Health, University of Otago Wellington)
$1,197,694

This research will provide evidence to support improved prevention of acute rheumatic fever (ARF). It will focus on a population at high risk of ARF: 5-14 year old children living in Porirua who have sore throats and skin infections and group A streptococcus (GAS) bacteria detected. GAS pharyngitis will be serologically confirmed to differentiate between children with true pharyngitis, who are considered at risk of progressing to ARF, from those that are GAS carriers. GAS organisms from throat and skin infections will be genetically typed (emm typing) to see if they are similar to those causing ARF in NZ. The study will collect data from participants to identify risk factors for infection, particularly those that are modifiable. This information will fill critical gaps in knowledge about the causes of NZ’s high rates of ARF, particular the potential value of better treatment and improvements to the environments where children are living.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Dr Debbie Williamson, Dr Sara Filoche, Dr Nevil Pierse, Professor Julian Crane

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Repurposing Amiloride Derivatives as New Agents for Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis

Professor Greg Cook (Microbiology & Immunology)
$1,186,405

Tuberculosis (TB) disease is increasing and drug-resistant M. tuberculosis strains are becoming more prevalent through the importation of these strains from high incidence countries (Asia-Pacific). Treatment options for drug-resistant strains are limited and expensive, creating an urgent need to develop new TB drugs. New drugs to combat TB disease should be centred on inhibitors of energy generation as these agents have the greatest potential to shorten TB chemotherapy to 8 weeks (e.g. bedaquiline). The goal of our study is to perform a structure-activity exploration of amiloride analogues against M. tuberculosis to identify potent new inhibitors of tuberculosis disease to combat drug resistance. The development of fast-acting drugs that combat all forms of TB disease will result in a reduction of the incidence of TB in New Zealand amongst those at greatest risk (e.g. Maori and Pacific Island descent) and individuals living in socioeconomically deprived areas (55% of all TB cases).

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Dr Joanna Kirman, Associate Professor Joel Tyndall

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What predicts regression from prediabetes to normal glucose regulation?

Dr Kirsten Coppell (Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine)
$1,111,511

Prediabetes is a high-risk state for type 2 diabetes (T2DM) and cardiovascular disease. Regression to normoglycaemia significantly reduces risk, even if regression is transient. In New Zealand, prevalence of diabetes is 7% and prevalence of prediabetes is 26%. Primary care-based lifestyle advice needs to be more effective if prediabetes is to be well managed and cases of T2DM prevented. Following our Hawke’s Bay-based collaborative feasibility study in a real-world primary care setting, we aim to determine if there are clinically relevant and modifiable differences between those with prediabetes who regress to normoglycaemia at 6 months, and those who do not, following participation in our structured practice nurse-delivered prediabetes dietary intervention. Results will contribute to understanding cultural, psychosocial, physical health and genetic factors associated with regression from prediabetes to normoglycaemia, and inform more effective prediabetes management clinical decision making. Established networks will facilitate widespread adoption of our novel prediabetes intervention tool.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Associate Professor Tony Merriman, Mr Andrew Gray, Associate Professor Lisa Whitehead, Associate Professor Jeremy Krebs

^ Back to list

Preventing Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in Infancy

Professor Julian Crane (Medicine, University of Otago Wellington)
$1,198,437

In this proposed study we will investigate the effect of a daily oral probiotic (BLIS) on preventing very common infectious problems during early infancy, particularly otitis media, reducing dental caries, upper respiratory tract infections and acute strep sore throats. The BLIS probiotic is known to reduce the bacteria that cause these infections and this study will examine the potential of this oral probiotic on these common infection problems.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Dr Kirstin Wickens, Mr Gordon Purdie, Dr Thorsten Stanley, Dr Erin Mahoney

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Role of hypothalamic beta-catenin in body weight regulation

Professor David Grattan (Anatomy)
$1,195,100

We have identified a novel brain response that occurs after eating a meal. The aim is to determine the role of this response in the normal regulation of food intake, and to determine whether abnormalities in this response might contribute to the development of obesity.

Other Otago Named Investigator:

Dr Alexander Tups

^ Back to list

The Next Generation Studies

Associate Professor Bob Hancox (Preventive & Social Medicine)
$1,195,332

The Next Generation Studies are two closely-related studies with the children of the long-running Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study participants: the Parenting Study investigates how parenting practices are passed from one generation to another. The Next Generation Study focuses on the well-being of the teenage children of the Dunedin Study participants. The aim is to understand how health, well-being, and lifestyle transfer between parents and children and what protects children from or increases their risk of developing problems. These studies have been running for several years and have been very successful in collecting data from the children and families involved. This application will extend the collection to include the children who have been too young to be assessed up until now and will enable further analyses of the data that we have collected.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Dr Judith Sligo, Associate Professor Joanne Baxter, Dr Rosalina Richards, Mr Andrew Gray, Dr Jonathan Broadbent, Professor Murray Thomson, Professor Richie Poulton

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Generating pulses with KNDy neurons

Professor Allan Herbison (Physiology)
$1,121,058

The brain controls the levels of hormones circulating in the blood. The fertility hormones are secreted in a pulsatile manner that is essential for normal reproduction in humans. While it is known that it is the brain that generates pulsatile hormone secretion, how it does this has remained a complete mystery. This projects aims to build on a recent exciting discovery in the laboratory that has given us a clue as to the origin of fertility hormone pulsatility. Using genetically-manipulated mouse models and the very latest techniques in neuroscience we aim to elucidate and characterize the role of a small distinct group of brain cells we believe to be responsible for generating pulses of fertility hormones in the blood. Understanding how the brain controls fertility will lead to the development of new therapies for treating infertile couples in addition to new methods of contraception.

Other Otago Named Investigator:

Dr Richard Piet

^ Back to list

Supporting informed e-cigarette use: A mixed methods study

Professor Janet Hoek (Marketing)
$1,196,668

Although electronic cigarettes (ECs) could reduce the harm caused by smoking, they may also present risks. While smokers would benefit if they replaced smoked tobacco with ECs, many continue smoking and remain at risk of serious harm. Other risks include experimentation among non-smokers, which may lead to nicotine addiction, and unknown long term effects of EC use. Because EC promotions emphasise potential benefits without explaining risks, users are likely to have an incomplete understanding of ECs’ risks and benefits. We will examine how smokers, and susceptible non-smokers’ perceive and use ECs, and then develop and test information messages that communicate ECs’ potential risks and benefits. We will assess the impact these messages have relative to other product attributes. Our findings will promote more informed user decisions, support proportionate policies that minimise trial and uptake among non-smokers, and balance the potential benefits ECs may deliver against the risks they might pose.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Professor Philip Gendall, Professor Richard Edwards, Mr Andrew Waa, Dr Rosalina Richards, Miss Lindsay Robertson

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Genomic analysis of adverse drug reactions

Professor Martin Kennedy (Pathology, University of Otago, Christchurch)
$1,186,142

Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) cause a great deal of illness and death, and limit therapeutic options. Some ADRs result from differences in individual genetic make-up, and it is likely that many others have genetic origins. This research seeks to clarify how genes contribute to adverse reactions to drugs used in treatment of common illnesses like hypertension, acid reflux, and depression, within the New Zealand healthcare setting. In parallel with this, we will develop a biobank to collect and store samples from New Zealand patients suffering a much wider range of serious ADRs, to enable ongoing research. Ultimately, knowledge generated in this area will contribute to development of a single test that examines all genes known to be involved in ADRs or that affect responses to drugs, and provision of this test may help prevent ADR and lead to safer and improved treatments for many common illnesses.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Associate Professor Matthew Doogue, Dr John Pearson, Dr Simone Cree

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Maori and Bipolar Disorder

Dr Cameron Lacey (Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)
$1,181,031

While there is evidence for Māori having increased prevalence and worse outcomes with bipolar disorder, little is known about the factors contributing to these disparities or strategies to reduce them. This project aims to utilise routinely collected national data to identify detailed patterns of health service use for Māori with bipolar disorder as well as potential factors leading to disparities in outcomes. Māori patient and whānau experience with bipolar disorder and healthcare will be investigated in a range of settings to ensure the spectrum of severity and support needs are included. Focus groups with healthcare providers will discuss these patterns of health service use and Māori patient experiences to develop guidelines for best practice for Māori with bipolar disorder and generate strategies for change to address areas of unmet need.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Associate Professor Joanne Baxter, Dr Ruth Cunningham, Dr James Stanley, Associate Professor Suzanne Pitama, Mrs Tania Huria, Professor Richard Porter, Professor Roger Mulder, Professor Marie Crowe, Ms Tracy Haitana

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Creating safer workplaces: understanding our work related fatalities

Dr Rebbecca Lilley (Preventive & Social Medicine)
$1,191,876

In the aftermath of the catastrophic Pike River Mine explosion New Zealand's poor workplace health and safety record has been under scrutiny. This research seeks to address a deficit in current information on work-related fatal injuries to New Zealand workers which is a significant barrier to progress on reducing work fatalities. This research will address the need for comprehensive and informative fatal injury data by using Coronial data which have been demonstrated to yield high quality, rich information with comprehensive capture of work fatalities to identify targets for policy, interventions for prevention and allow bench marking of safety performance.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Dr Simon Horsburgh, Dr Brett MacLennan, Ms Gabrielle Davie, Mrs Bronwen McNoe

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Structure-directed discovery of next-generation antifungals

Associate Professor Brian Monk (Oral Sciences)
$1,197,552

There is an urgent need to augment the widely-used and well-tolerated but drug resistance susceptible triazole antifungals with broad-spectrum drugs that target fungal lanosterol 14α-demethylase (CYP51) and not its human homologue or other cytochrome 450 enzymes. We have obtained high-resolution X-ray crystal structures of wild type and triazole resistant CYP51s with substrates and triazole inhibitors. We will apply this unique knowledge to improve drug specificity by modifying several features of existing antifungals. The electron transfer pathway to the active site and a product egress pathway will also be explored to identify antifungals that separately target human and plant fungal pathogens. Our structural biology expertise, combinatorial chemistry capacity, yeast-based screens and relevant murine infection models will be used to identify optimal hits as fungal CYP51-specific drug candidates. The identification of new antifungals will provide a model for drug discovery and development that circumvents the ubiquitous activities of cytochrome P450 enzymes.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Associate Professor Joel Tyndall, Dr Mikhail Keniya, Dr Rajni Wilson

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Novel biomarker for Acute Coronary Syndromes

Associate Professor Christopher Pemberton (Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)
$1,164,059

Advances in the measurement of troponin in blood using highly sensitive assays has improved time to diagnosis of heart attacks but increases in troponin in patients presenting with chest pain that do not rise above diagnostic thresholds can lead to uncertainty for clinical care and management. Furthermore, the moderate ability of troponin to predict future mortality and cardiovascular events can be improved upon. We have discovered in human blood a novel biomarker that identifies patients with chest pain whom might be at high risk of future adverse events that are not identified by troponin. This biomarker appears to complement and add to the prognostic ability of troponin in patients with chest pain. This study will clarify the potential diagnostic and prognostic utility of the biomarker in patients with cardiovascular disease and seek to confirm its potential use as a clinical partner to troponin measurement in this high risk group.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Professor Mark Richards, Professor Richard Troughton

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Timekeeping in the neural network controlling fertility

Dr Richard Piet (Physiology)
$1,074,371

Fertility is controlled by a complex neuronal network in the brain that drives the activity of the gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons. This project aims to examine the mechanisms underlying the regulation of this neuronal network by the central biological clock in females. We will use state-of-the art experimental approaches in genetically-modified mouse models to dissect the specific brain circuits involved in keeping time within the GnRH neural network under both physiological and pathological conditions. We anticipate our studies will provide new information of the brain mechanisms involved in the control of reproductive function, and may open new avenues for therapeutic strategies for treating infertility in the clinic

Other Otago Named Investigator:

Dr Rebecca Campbell

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Reducing the burden of atrial fibrillation

Professor Richard Troughton (Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch)
$1,087,437

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is an irregular heart rhythm that is common and is associated with impaired heart function, stroke and increased risk of hospitalisation or death. Aldosterone and other substances that activate mineralocorticoid receptors usually play a role in maintaining blood pressure and blood volume, but recent evidence suggest that they may also contribute to the development of AF. The proposed study will test whether blockade of mineralocorticoid receptors with an oral medication called spironolactone that is already proven to be beneficial for subjects with heart failure, can also reduce AF in subjects who already have a cardiac pacemaker. Using the cardiac pacemaker will allow more accurate detection of the total number and duration of episodes of AF. Participants in the study will receive either daily spironolactone or placebo tablets for 12-months and the difference in number of AF episodes will be identified from pacemaker recordings

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Associate Professor Matthew Doogue, Professor Christopher Frampton, Professor Mark Richards

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Te Ara Auahi Kore (TAKE)

Mr Anaru Waa (Public Health, University of Otago Wellington)
$1,189,414

The Te Ara Auahi Kore (TAKe) research project will provide much needed high quality evidence for addressing smoking disparities between Māori and non-Māori and achieving a Tupeka Kore (Tobacco Free) Aotearoa 2025. TAKe will be conducted in partnership with Māori health providers and aligned to the indigenous arm of the International Tobacco Control Evaluation project. TAKe will focus on following a cohort of 700 Māori smokers over two surveys. It will also include a survey of tobacco control activities in participating locations and a qualitative study of whānau smokers. Findings will provide a unique and comprehensive picture of actual or potential national, regional and whānau influences on Māori smoking. Findings will be disseminated via Māori health provider workshops, seminars, peer reviewed journals, and conference presentations. The research team includes experts in Māori health, kaupapa Māori methodologies, and cohort studies. Community researchers will be employed as part of the study team.

Other Otago Named Investigators:

Ms Bridget Robson, Professor Richard Edwards, Dr James Stanley, Ms Ruruhira Rameka

^ Back to list

For further information, contact:

Professor Richard Blaikie
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise)
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 8513
Email dvc.research@otago.ac.nz

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