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New home for the world-renowned Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study

Monday, 4 July 2016 3:13pm

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An impression of the new building for the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study.

Work is starting on a new purpose-built home for the world-renowned Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, on the University of Otago’s campus in Dunedin.

News the $2.6 million dollar project has been awarded to Cook Brothers Construction caps off an extremely successful few months for the Study.

A four-part documentary Why Am I? — The Science of Us has just finished screening on TV One, where Nielsen TAM says it attracted an audience of 293,000 people on average per episode.

TV One’s On Demand statistics also show the series has been streamed more than 212,000 times, while Razor Films says it has been acquired by 17 geographic territories and several airlines. The buyers include BBC Asia and Canal Plus, and their broadcast footprint includes another 60 countries.

Earlier this month, the Study was awarded almost $5 million dollars over five years by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), for a life-course study on aging to inform early intervention strategies. That builds on more than 40 years of historic investment in the Study by the HRC.

The HRC also recently recognised Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit Director Professor Richie Poulton (Psychology) in its ‘celebrating research excellence awards’, for an outstanding contribution to health research excellence, leadership, and impact.

The Toitū Otago Settlers Museum opened a major exhibition about the Study — Slice of Life — on 19 March and museum Business Manager Jared Fowler says it has attracted more than 56,000 visits so far. The exhibition is running until 27 March next year.

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Professor Richie Poulton.

Professor Poulton says the study has been examining every aspect of the health, development and well-being of more than 1000 Study members born in Dunedin in 1972 and 1973.

In the early days, the Study was based in Knox Church Halls, then it shifted temporarily to the Barningham Building — behind the School of Dentistry — where it ended up staying for 30 years.

The Study’s base had to move in November last year because the building was being demolished for dental school developments. Since then, the base has been in Logan Park Annexe, which also houses Otago Cricket and is in Logan Park Drive, behind the University Oval.

Now the Study is going to be on the move again and Professor Poulton says it was vital to consider the Study members when looking for a new site.

“The Study is all about our Study members, and the research. What was needed was a simple and approachable research space which offered privacy for our Study members and was easy to find.”

The Research Unit brings Study members back at regular intervals in their lives for a day of intensive interviews and testing, which cover every aspect of their lives and wellbeing, from mental health to cardiac fitness and respiratory tests.

Because the Study members’ identities are never revealed, the study building needs a private entrance, private parking, and a discreet street façade. The Study’s base has to be a new build to satisfy these needs and to accommodate specialised research areas internally.

Professor Poulton says the site opposite Forsyth Barr Stadium “offered ticks in all these boxes and is part of the University yet not in the middle of campus. It is perfect.”

Cohort and Assessment Manager Sean Hogan says; “Our Study members have put up with a warm welcome in a fairly decrepit building with a drain at the front door. We hope that next year, when we welcome them back for phase 45, we can offer the same warm welcome in a building that reflects the high esteem the University has for what the Study members have contributed and continue to contribute to health research and social policy.”

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Professor Richard Blaikie.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise, Professor Richard Blaikie says building a new research facility emphasises the University’s long-term commitment to the Study.

“It is this long-term view, and recognising the need for investment in the future of research, that makes the University of Otago so important as the host of the Dunedin Study.”

Property Services Strategy and Planning Manager Maurice Roers says work started on site on Monday 27 June.

A building consent was issued on 27 June and the University appreciated the Dunedin City Council’s efficiency in processing it.

The land on the corner of Union Street and Anzac Avenue used to house the University of Otago College of Education Hard Technology Block.

The building will have a 580m² gross area, with a 311m ground floor and a 269m² upper level.

Because the ground floor will be dedicated to research, it will include interview rooms and specialised testing areas. The first floor is for offices and meeting rooms for researchers and support staff.

The two-storey building has been designed to have a clean and simple form — it will be covered mostly in vertical cedar, with contrasting elements of cement sheet cladding.

Professor Poulton says the Study has produced over 1200 publications and reports, with many of them influencing policy-makers both nationally and internationally.

Although the Study is a public-good research enterprise and was not created to generate export earnings, it has attracted more than $NZ17 million from overseas funding agencies, including the United States’ National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council, so is making a significant contribution to the Dunedin economy.