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Major funding for University of Otago health research


Thursday 7 June 2012 12:02am

Allan HerbisonNeuroscientist Professor Allan Herbison is among Otago’s latest HRC recipients

World-class research at the University of Otago aimed at improving New Zealanders’ health and wellbeing has gained significant backing in the Health Research Council’s latest annual funding round.

Researchers from across the University’s Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington campuses have been awarded more than $27m for 16 research contracts including four major programmes, eight projects and four grants to up-and-coming researchers.

The Otago research initiatives range from investigations into the genetic basis of deadly diseases to community-level interventions to create healthier home environments.

Funding for three multi-million dollar, multi-year programmes at Otago has been extended in the latest round. These programmes involve investigating aging and risk for chronic disease in members of the world-renowned Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study; the roles of highly reactive chemicals in the body in promoting health and causing disease; and the effect cold and damp housing has on New Zealanders’ health and how to best tackle this problem.

A major new $4.8m programme seeking to tease out the mechanisms underlying the brain’s control of fertility has also been supported by the HRC. This research is helping to provide the foundations for designing new therapies to help infertile couples and safer, more effective, contraceptives.

Two of Otago’s new HRC projects delve into childhood obesity and the long-term success of interventions in infancy, such as improved self-regulation of sleep, feeding and activity.

Another project will compare the health and well-being of New Zealand adults who had a very low birth weight to that of adults born at full-term. Cure Kids, whose work contributes to funding vital medical research into life-threatening childhood illnesses in New Zealand, is co-funding this project.

Other newly supported child health-related Otago projects include investigating genetic predisposition to biliary atresia, a lethal congenital disease that disproportionately affects Maori and Pasifika children, and research into reducing the disparities in Maori maternal and infant health outcomes arising from gestational diabetes.

Further projects will investigate new means of treating Parkinson’s disease symptoms; the effect of lowering the alcohol purchase age on traffic injury and assault; and how best to combine the results of multiple studies to inform clinical decision-making.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie warmly congratulated all of Otago’s HRC recipients on their success in what he describes as a very competitive and prestigious funding round.

“I am delighted that these fine researchers, who range from senior professors to early-career staff, have received this significant support. This welcome funding will allow them to pursue world-class research that promises to make a real difference to New Zealanders’ health and well-being.”

Four of the 11 HRC Emerging Researcher First Grants awarded nationally went to early-career staff at Otago.

These researchers’ respective projects involve studying aspects of influenza virus life cycle that may lead to new treatment strategies; testing novel early interventions for hyperactivity in preschoolers; searching for potential predictors of low back and pelvic girdle pain in healthy populations, which may help early diagnosis and treatment; and looking for genetic variants that may predispose some people towards positive emotions in everyday life.

For more information, contact

Professor Richard Blaikie
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise)
Tel 64 3 479 8513

Otago’s New HRC Contracts

Please note that only the first named investigator is listed:

HRC programme extensions:

Professor Richie Poulton
Preventive & Social Medicine (03) 479 8507
The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study of Aging and Risk for Chronic Disease

Professor Anthony Kettle
Pathology, University of Otago, Christchurch (03) 364 0577
Oxidative stress in health and disease

Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman
Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington (04) 918 6047
He Kainga Oranga/Community Housing and Health Intervention Research Programme

New HRC Programme:

Professor Allan Herbison
Physiology (03) 479 7312
Neural Control of Fertility

New HRC projects:

Professor Brian Darlow
Paediatrics, University of Otago, Christchurch (03) 364 0747
New Zealand very low birthweight young adults: mapping the road ahead
(Co-funded by Cure Kids)

Professor Peter Herbison
Preventive & Social Medicine (03) 479 7217
Advanced meta-analysis

Professor Brian Hyland
Physiology (03) 479 7342
Restoring thalamocortical activity to treat Parkinson’s disease symptoms

Dr Kypros Kypri
Preventive & Social Medicine + 61 2 4913 8231
Effects of lowering the minimum alcohol purchase age on traffic injury and assault

Dr Beverley Lawton
Primary Health Care & General Practice, University of Otago, Wellington (04) 385 5995
Diabetes: The impact of maternal care disparities on Maori mothers and infants

Professor Stephen Robertson
Women’s & Children’s Health (03) 479 7469
Defining the genetic predisposition to biliary atresia

Professor Barry Taylor
Prevention of Overweight in Infancy (POI): The Emergence of Self-regulation
Women’s & Children’s Health (03) 474 7748

Associate Professor Rachael Taylor
Medicine (03) 479 5262
Prevention of Overweight in Infancy (POI): follow-up to 5 years

Emerging Researcher First Grants:

Dr Melanie Bussey
School of Physical Education (03) 479 8981
Towards a greater understanding of mechanical dysfunction in the pelvis

Dr Tamlin Conner
Psychology (03) 479 7624
The genetics of wellbeing in daily life

Dr Dione Healey
Psychology (03) 479 7620
Comparing ENGAGE and Triple P: treatment programmes for hyperactive preschoolers

Dr Matloob Husain
Microbiology & Immunology (03) 470 3420
The role of multi-substrate deacetylase HDAC6 in influenza A virus replication

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

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