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Clocktower.Thursday 20 November 2014 11:07am

Dr Karl Iremonger
Dr Karl Iremonger

Ten University of Otago researchers are among the recipients of Health Research Council (HRC) Career Development Awards for 2015, with one gaining a prestigious Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship.

Dr Karl Iremonger (Physiology) is one of two new Sir Charles Hercus Fellows announced today. He will use the four-year fellowship, valued at $489,062, to examine effects of chronic stress on the brain.

Three Maori Health PhD scholarships went to Otago students along with two Māori Health Research Summer Studentships. Two Pacific Health Research PhD Scholarships and two Pacific Health Research Summer Studentships were awarded to Otago researchers.

Announcing this year's recipients, HRC Board Chair Sir Robert Stewart, KNZM, says the HRC's career development awards are an important way to foster the health research workforce in New Zealand.

“By targeting support to practicing clinicians and the most promising emerging researchers, we're helping to ensure that the research workforce will be able to meet the needs of the health-care system and our unique population, both now and into the future,” says Sir Robert.

Otago's recipients

Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship:

Dr Karl Iremonger (Physiology)
Chronic stress induced adaptations in hypothalamic brain circuits
48 months, $489,062
Tel: 64 3 479 5210

The damaging effects of chronic or prolonged stress on our bodies and brains will be the focus of Dr Karl Iremonger's new health research fellowship. Dr Iremonger will determine what changes occur in the brain's neurons after chronic stress.

Persistent exposure to stress has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders. It has also been shown to affect neurological function, including diminished fertility, impaired short-term memory, and an increased risk of anxiety and depression.

Dr Iremonger's study will analyse changes in the form and structure of neurons in the hypothalamic region of the brain, as well as changes in electrical and chemical signalling in neurons before and after exposure to stress.

Many of the negative impacts of chronic stress on health are thought to be due to the elevated levels of glucocorticoid stress hormones that are secreted in response to chronic stress. While acute exposure to glucocorticoid stress hormones can be beneficial, persistently elevated levels are damaging.

“This research project aims to improve the therapeutic options for people suffering from chronic stress diseases by determining the neurological changes that drive persistently elevated levels of stress hormones,” says Dr Iremonger.

Māori health research career development awards

Māori Health Research PhD Scholarships

Ms Tania Huria (Dean's Department, University of Otago, Christchurch)
'Created equal': Investigating health system perspectives of disparities
39 months, $74,616
Tel: 64 3 364 3677

Ms Christina McKerchar (Population Health, University of Otago, Christchurch. Primary Supervisor is at Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington)
Food availability for Māori children: A rights based approach
48 months, $120,750
Tel: 64 3 364 3638

Ms Kelly Tikao (University of Otago, Dunedin, taking up the award at the University of Canterbury)
Iho – a cord between two worlds. Traditional Māori birthing practices
36 months, $106,750
Tel: 64 3 456 4559

Māori Health Research Summer Studentships

Miss Christina Gordon (Physiology)
Changes in neural control of the heart following a heart attack
10 weeks, $5,000

Ms Te Kahui Tapsell (Primary Health Care & General Practice, University of Otago, Wellington)
Analysis of 20 cases of severe acute maternal morbidity in Aotearoa
10 weeks, $5,000

Pacific Health Research career development awards

Pacific Health Research PhD Scholarships

Ms Jaye Moors (Biochemistry)
Lipid profiles as a risk factor for metabolic disease in Polynesians
36 months, $88,550 plus fees
Tel: 64 3 479 4167

Dr Faafetai Sopoaga (Preventive and Social Medicine)
Pacific students' health, wellbeing and success in higher education
36 months, $112,550
Tel: 64 3 479 8493

Pacific Health Research Summer Studentships

Ms Melbournemockba Mauiliu (Preventive and Social Medicine)
Experiences of Pacific peoples in the Prospective Outcomes of Injury Study
10 weeks, $5,000
Tel: 64 3 479 5482

Miss Alapasita Teu (Preventive and Social Medicine)
Building a Pacific health research workforce: “What do our alumni suggest?”
10 weeks, $5,000
Tel: 64 3 479 5888

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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