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Thursday 15 September 2016 10:41am

Researchers from the Department of Anatomy have enjoyed major success with the funding of four projects by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE), together totalling over NZ $14M.

Dr Andrew Clarkson and Associate Professor John Reynolds are Principle Investigators in their Smart Ideas project and Research Programme grants respectively, while Professor Neil Gemmell is a Co-Investigator in a Smart Ideas project run by AgResearch Ltd and a Research Programme led by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd.

The projects funded are:

Dr Andrew Clarkson
enGAGing the brain to restore function
Smart Ideas Project - $1 million over three years
“Stroke is the leading cause of lasting impairment and can affect anyone at any time. Until recently the brain was thought not to recover following a stroke. However, we have previously shown that if the right treatment is given at the right time following a stroke, significant improvements in motor and cognitive function can be achieved.
This three year Smart Idea project, under the leadership of a stroke biologist at the University of Otago (Dunedin), brings together leading experts in chemistry from the Ferrier Research Institute (Victoria University of Wellington) and KODE Biotech (Auckland University of Technology), and biomaterials experts at the University of Otago (Christchurch). Their common goal is to develop novel treatments to improve function following brain injury. This research builds on our team's ability to greatly simplify the synthesis of novel compounds capable of targeting any part of the brain extracellular matrix; the glue that holds all brain cells in place, vital to brain health. The team will use an iterative, smart design approach to develop and test a range of potential drugs to help patients recover from stroke.
Such novel compounds have wide-ranging potential as they have the ability to modulate many biological and physiological processes in the brain. So beyond holding great promise for treatment of stroke, in the future they may aid in improving outcomes for numerous other neurological conditions.”

Associate Professor John Reynolds
Targeting Drug Delivery within the brain - Building a system for human application
Research Programme - $4,859,256 over four years
“This programme will stimulate a high-profit, technology-based medical device and consumables industry in New Zealand for the treatment of brain disorders. The technology will incorporate a delivery system for brain chemicals together with a controller that will manage timing and dose. Drug delivery will mimic natural release of neurochemicals in the brain, reducing side effects and improving treatment efficacy.
The new technology will enable smart, non-invasive drug delivery that will revolutionise the treatment of disorders with underlying neurochemical imbalances. The team wish to expand their device concept into a drug delivery platform that will first be applied to better treat Parkinson's disease (PD), preventing, and in theory reversing, current treatment-induced side effects in humans. The technology could also target chemotherapy to brain cancers and arrest epileptic seizures at the site of origin.”

AgResearch Ltd, including co-investigator Professor Neil Gemmell
World first proof-of-application of Trojan female pest control.
Smart Ideas Project - $869,562 over three years
“Agricultural pests cost New Zealand over $2-4 billion p.a. and new tools for managing them are urgently needed to replace flawed pesticide-based approaches, and bolster plant resistance and classical biocontrol, which have important limitations. Trojan female (TF) pest control is an ingenious approach for controlling or even eradicating pests, conceived in NZ, which we propose to implement as a world-first proof-of- application. Recent modelling and laboratory research support its exciting potential for use in the real world.
TF pest control involves breeding up females that carry natural mutations in their mitochondrial DNA which reduce male fertility, and releasing them back into wild populations 2. This simple intervention involves no genetic modification (GM). TFs survive and reproduce similarly to normal females, and persist across generations. However, their infertile sons mate with wild females, produce few offspring and reduce pest population fertility.
Using TFs to control pests has unparalleled advantages including: controllability, species-specificity, persistence, zero-toxicity, non-GM, affordability, humaneness, social acceptability and efficacy. We propose to develop TF pest control to improve control of, and eventually eradicate, a pasture pest called clover root weevil (CRW), which causes $0.45 billion of economic losses to New Zealand each year. By the end of this project, we aim to be ready to implement TF control for CRW in the field, then afterwards to implement it in partnership with industry. TF pest control is applicable to numerous vertebrate and invertebrate species, and our proposed research will serve as the basis for TF control of many other pests. “

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd, including co-investigator Professor Neil Gemmell
Overcoming dispersal and recruitment constraints on native freshwater biodiversity.
Research Programme - $7,275,000 over five years
“Enabling ecologically sustainable water resource use is a key challenge for New Zealand. Land use change and human infrastructure in and around waterways can disrupt the movement of organisms between environments used by different life stages, and degrade critical habitats, preventing successful completion of life cycles. These disruptions to connectivity and habitat reduce the resilience of freshwater communities to other environmental disturbances, such as floods, pollution events or climate change. In combination, these pressures greatly contribute to declines in macroinvertebrate biodiversity and the abundance of iconic fish, such as whitebait species, which are regarded as taonga by Maori and indicators of healthy waterways.
Understanding how species respond to human impacts is fundamental to resolving the challenge of maintaining resilient aquatic ecosystems. This project will improve the biological integrity of threatened ecosystems and species in modified landscapes. This will be achieved by identifying habitat and connectivity bottlenecks that limit dispersal and recruitment in fish and macroinvertebrate populations, and by providing guidelines on practicable solutions to overcome these constraints. The guidelines will incorporate improved understanding of the abilities of exemplar species to move between critical habitats, and how to mitigate human alterations to river habitats that impact on reproduction and colonisation success. These tools will inform effective and efficient restoration, protection and maintenance of ecosystems in modified landscapes. This help will sustain our aquatic fauna and the ecosystem services they provide to people.“

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