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Canterbury Medical Research Foundation grants for Christchurch researchers

Friday 8 October 2021 8:50am

Dr Jenni Manuel and Dr Campbell Le Heron image
Dr Jenni Manuel and Dr Campbell Le Heron.

Two University of Otago, Christchurch, researchers have been awarded Canterbury Medical Research Foundation grants.

Research Fellow Dr Jenni Manuel and Clinical Senior Lecturer Dr Campbell Le Heron are among eight researchers in Canterbury who received a share of the $865,000 in funding. The foundation received the highest number of applications on record this year.

“As an emerging researcher I am excited to receive my first grant and have the opportunity to be the lead investigator on the project.”

Dr Manuel, from the Department of Psychological Medicine, says she is excited to receive her first grant, of $95,049, for her research project – “Evaluating a peer-led residential service for severe mental illness”.

Her work will address concerns that have been raised about the clinical effectiveness and patient experiences of current inpatient psychiatric treatment by looking at an alternative model.

Peer-led community-based treatment is one such alternative, whereby acute treatment is provided in a homelike environment with a peer model of support, she says.

“Our project aims to evaluate one of these initiatives. It will compare the outcomes for people who have had care in a peer-led unit with people who were admitted to hospital before the unit existed.”

The research will involve conducting detailed interviews with staff and with people who have experienced admission to the unit to better understand their experiences.

“As an emerging researcher I am excited to receive my first grant and have the opportunity to be the lead investigator on the project.

“There is a need to improve mental health service delivery in Canterbury and the peer-led acute mental health facility we are investigating is a very promising initiative,” Dr Manuel says.

Dr Le Heron, from the Department of Medicine, says he is extremely appreciative to receive $109,870 across two years for his research – “Understanding apathy in Huntington’s disease - from cognitive mechanisms to longitudinal trajectories”.

Apathy, which is a loss of motivation, is commonly seen in people with Huntington’s disease, but remains poorly understood, he says.

“It can occur very early in the disease process and significantly reduces quality of life for people and their whānau.

“Because we don't understand its underlying mechanisms well, our treatment approaches are very limited.”

Dr Le Heron’s team will study people with Huntington’s disease in Canterbury using novel behavioural tasks, to determine whether apathy is caused by disruption of normal brain decision-making processes.

Those insights will be combined with analyses of international datasets – which researchers and patients in Canterbury have been contributing to for the last eight years – to deepen understanding of how apathy evolves in relation to other aspects of the disease.

His research will pave the way for treatments that specifically target apathy and will be an important step towards an apathy-based behavioural biomarker.

“I am very excited about the opportunities this research brings to understand, and ultimately treat, apathy in Huntington’s disease,” Dr Le Heron says.