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Thursday 16 March 2023 3:13pm

Cliff Abraham image
Aotearoa Brain Project Co-Lead Professor Cliff Abraham, of the Department of Psychology, will speak at tomorrow's launch.

A national network which aims to promote brain health throughout the lives of New Zealanders will launch tomorrow.The Aotearoa Brain Project - Kaupapa Roro o Aotearoa is a nationwide collaboration between researchers, clinicians, NGOs, Māori and Pasifika communities and other members of the public, led by Professor Cliff Abraham, University of Otago, Dr Julie Wharewera-Mika (Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tuhoe, Te Whānau-a-Apanui), Manu Ārahi – KaupapaMāori Clinical Psychology & Research Consultancy, and Professor Peter Thorne, University of Auckland.

Professor Abraham says it aims to act as a support and thought leader for the brain health ecosystem to accelerate the development of treatments and interventions tooptimise brain health not only for those with brain disorders but also for their whānau and the public.

This will include a focus on enhancing synergies between research groups around Aotearoa and the training of early career researchers.

“We will also have a strong parallel aim based on communication and public health initiatives,” he says.

Dr Wharewera-Mika says the Project is grounded in a partnership with Māori.

The co-partnership with Māori is a primary, fundamental aspect of what we are trying to achieve going forward and it's been a vital part of this whole development,” she says.

“Importantly, we want to address inequities for Māori, and Pasifika, by promoting kaupapa Māori research by Māori researchers and communicators, community engagement, and similar for Pasifika.

“We are excited by the opportunities this partnership will offer to enhance brain health for Māori and Pasifika.”

The Aotearoa Brain Project was formed after Brain Research New Zealand (BRNZ), a national Centre of Research Excellence, was disestablished in mid-2021.

BRNZ, of which Professor Thorne and Professor Abraham were Co-Directors, received one round of funding which was used to support research and public outreach activities, but did not receive further funding.

It built up a “wonderful ethos” of national collaborations, worked with clinicians, engaged with the public, and helped mentor and train new neuroscientists, Professor Thorne says.

“I think we changed the whole national ethos of research in this area through this collaborative effort we set up,” he says.

“We didn't want that to disappear and fade away.”

Members and non-members were enthusiastic and wanted to keep the work going, so the Project was developed.

While BRNZ focused on aging-related neurological disorders, the Project will support brain health.

The Project, which builds and expands on the vision and ethos of the BRNZ Centre of Research Excellence, will provide opportunities for people to connect and develop synergistic research projects.

This will be highlighted in its new structure, aims and vision, which will be announced at the launch tomorrow.

The event, to be held simultaneously at Otago and Auckland universities and via Zoom, will also include a symposium which features a range of guest speakers whose work exemplifies the values of the Project.

Professor Abraham says it is exciting to finally launch the Project because they have been working on it for a long time.

“We have a big vision and although we can't do everything at once but we want to keep working in a way that will make a difference for New Zealanders,” he says.

The Co-Leads will speak at the launch, joined by others including University of Auckland Centre for Brain Research Director Distinguished Professor Sir Richard Faull and Neurological Foundation of New Zealand CEO Rich Easton.

University of Otago's Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study Director Distinguished Professor Richie Poulton and BrainWave Trust Kaihautu Huia Hanlen will also be amongst the speakers.

Each speaker will talk about the different areas of work that exemplify the values of the Project.

“It will thus cover a wide range of approaches to the topic of brain health that will be extremely inspirational,” Professor Abraham says.

The Project co-leaders are grateful for the support and advice they have already received from people around Aotearoa, including initial funding support from the Universities of Otago and Auckland.

To join the event, go to

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