Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon
Thursday 6 August 2020 10:50am

Researchers developing a faster and less painful way of diagnosing Legionnaires' disease are among the recipients of almost $1million in Canterbury Medical Research Foundation (CMRF) grants.

Eight University of Otago, Christchurch researchers were awarded funding by CMRF, totalling more than $830,000. The CMRF has been awarding grants to Christchurch-based researchers for more than 60 years.

Amy Scott-Thomas image
Dr Amy Scott-Thomas.

Dr Amy Scott-Thomas was awarded $110,000 to develop a urine test to diagnose Legionnaire's disease, a common form of pneumonia. Dr Scott-Thomas says in Canterbury a quarter of patients hospitalised with Legionnaire's disease end up in the intensive care unit and one in 20 die. Diagnosis and access to the correct antibiotics is crucial but only half of patients with suspected pneumonia are able to cough up mucus (or sputum), which is currently required for diagnosis.

Dr Scott-Thomas and her colleagues will develop a urine test for the most common strain of the pneumonia-causing bacteria in New Zealand – the L. longbeachae strain. They will trial its success against the existing sputum test. If successful, the test could be used commercially around the world. It is likely that internationally cases caused by the L. longbeachae strain are under-reported as it is not routinely tested for, but there have been several outbreaks in Europe and the United Kingdom in recent years.

University of Otago, Christchurch Associate Dean, Research Professor Lisa Stamp says CMRF's support enables researchers, particularly those early in their careers, to stay in the field and try and make a difference to health outcomes.

“We are grateful for CMRF's support this year and over the decades. Getting funding for health research is likely to be more difficult in a financially uncertain post-COVID environment, but the pandemic has demonstrated science and evidence are essential, more now than ever.”

Newly-funded projects

Ruqayya Sulaiman-Hill image
Dr Ruqayya Sulaiman-Hill.

Eight of nine projects funded by the CMRF this year are to University of Otago, Christchurch researchers. As well as the Legionnaire's study, newly-funded projects are:

The impact of supporting loved ones who witnessed the mosque attacks ($92,364)

Dr Ruqayya Sulaiman-Hill and her team will interview adult family members of those who were at or near the two mosques during the terror attacks to understand some of the significant and prolonged impacts that living with highly traumatised survivors may have on their loved ones.

Finding cerebral signposts of dementia in Parkinsons' patients ($109,226)

Dr Tracy Melzer will analyse a decade's worth of brain scans from those with Parkinson's disease to look for signs of cognitive decline and dementia, which place a large burden on those with the disease.

Brain cell-killing oxidants and Alzheimer's disease ($90,724)

Dr Leon Smyth will study a by-product of immune cells that invade the brain and causes neurons to die in people with Alzheimer's disease to understand whether it could be blocked by desperately-needed drugs for the condition.

Novel biomarkers for heart failure ($109,719)

Dr Sarah Appleby will explore novel biomarkers for the diagnosis and follow-up of heart failure in patients that are also obese or have atrial fibrillation, as current testing is less reliable in these patients.

Super charging heart-protective hormones ($109,252)

Dr Nicola Scott has been awarded a grant to investigate how to maximise the effect of hormones called the natriuretic peptides that have multiple favourable effects that mitigate heart failure symptoms and delay its progression.

A new drug for inflammatory tissue damage ($106,307)

White blood cells protect us from infection but in some inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and COVID-19 they can damage healthy tissue. Dr Louisa Ashby is looking for a new drug to stop the harmful effects of white blood cells.

Finding a chink in Streptococcus pneumoniae's armour ($109,631)

Dr Nina Dickerhof will study how Streptococcus pneumoniae, a common cause of bacterial pneumonia, survives exposure to an antimicrobial oxidant produced by the immune system. The research may provide clues to new antimicrobial strategies.

To interview any of the grant recipients, contact:

Kim Thomas
Communications Adviser
University of Otago, Christchurch
Mob +64 27 222 6016
Office hours: Mon, Tues, Wed 9:30am–2:30pm. Thurs 9:30am–12:30pm.

FIND an Otago Expert

Use our Media Expertise Database to find an Otago researcher for media comment.

Back to top