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$4.2m grant funds new directions for research centre

Christchurch campus

Thursday 7 June 2012 10:28am

Free radical researchAssociate Professor Margreet Vissers, Professor Christine Winterbourn, Associate Professor Mark Hampton and Professor Tony Kettle of the Centre for Free Radical Research.

New funding from the Health Research Council has continued support for the Centre for Free Radical Research at the University of Otago, Christchurch with a grant of $4.2 million over the next three years.

The Centre combines the research talents of four principal investigators: Associate Professor Mark Hampton, Professor Tony Kettle, Associate Professor Margreet Vissers, and Rutherford Medal winner for 2011, Professor Christine Winterbourn.

Research projects are aimed at understanding how free radicals fight infection, transmit chemical signals that control essential cell functions, and how they influence the development of chronic illnesses. Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals that can contribute to disease when not controlled by antioxidants.
Clinical spin offs will include the development of new diagnostic tools and treatments for cancer, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, cystic fibrosis and heart disease.

A positive outcome of the recent earthquakes in Christchurch is that part of the Centre’s 30 staff and students are now temporarily housed at Canterbury Scientific, one of New Zealand’s most successful biotechnology companies. Both organisations are exploring commercialising the Centre’s current research activities in line with government signals for science funding.

Collaborative projects are also being carried out in conjunction with the National Centre for Growth and Development, and AstraZeneca in Sweden. The Centre for Free Radical Research also has financial support from the Marsden Fund, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, Zespri New Zealand, the National Centre for Growth and Development and AstraZeneca in Sweden.

Recent publications from the group include the identification of potential drugs that will block oxidative stress associated with inflammation; a deeper understanding of how uric acid contributes to cardiovascular disease; the demonstration of how newly identified enzymes act as antioxidants and relay chemical signals; the benefits obtained from foods rich in antioxidants and vitamin C.

A second HRC grant for $1.1 million has been won by the University of Otago, Christchurch to carry out research into the impact of very low birth weight on young adults. This project is being co-funded by Cure Kids, whose work contributes to funding vital medical research into life-threatening childhood illnesses in New Zealand.

Led by Christchurch paediatrician and neo-natal specialist Professor Brian Darlow, this first ever study in New Zealand will examine the effects of being born with very low birth weight in 250 young adults (26-27 years) in terms of their health, physical development, educational achievement and social functioning compared to their peers born at full-term.

Professor Darlow says that very low birth weight babies account for nearly 2% of all births, but up to 75% of neonatal intensive care unit workload. Findings from this study will provide new information for health, education and social policies concerning very preterm survivors, as well as the care of future premature or very low birth weight babies.

For more information contact

Professor Tony Kettle
Centre for Free Radical Research
University of Otago, Christchurch
Cell 027 712 7222

Professor Brian Darlow
University of Otago, Christchurch
Tel 64 3 364 4699


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