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Friday 13 January 2023 2:26pm

A University of Otago researcher hopes whānau-focused storytelling could help support people taper off potentially harmful opioids prescribed for chronic pain.

Dr Hemakumar Devan image
Dr Hemakumar Devan.

Dr Hemakumar Devan, of Wellington, was one of 12 Otago researchers to be granted funding in the latest Health Research Council funding round, totalling about $3.1 million.

Fifteen Otago researchers were also awarded funding from the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board, totalling a further $1.6 million.

Along with co-principal investigator Cheryl Davies (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Mutunga ki Te Wharekauri), of Tū Kotahi Māori Asthma Trust, Dr Devan's team will use the grant of almost $1.4 million to co-produce a whānau-focused opioid tapering intervention for people with chronic non-cancer pain; and to evaluate the clinical implementation of this story-telling intervention in four tertiary pain services and four primary care practices in Aotearoa.

“Opioids are a group of medicines commonly used for pain relief. They are quite effective short-term, however, when used long term – more than six months – their pain-relieving effects wane off, instead there is potential for becoming more sensitive to pain and in some, it may lead to dependency and addiction,” Dr Devan says.

Chronic non-cancer pain is a public health burden affecting one in five New Zealanders, however Māori have a disproportionate burden of chronic pain and there may be inequities in opioid prescription for Māori, he says.

“While opioid tapering is recommended for some patients who are on long-term use with minimal pain relief, this is a complex process as tapering is associated with withdrawal symptoms and people need ongoing support in their tapering journey. Currently, there is no Aotearoa New Zealand research to understand opioid tapering for chronic non-cancer pain.”

Supported by kaumatua, the Māori-centred research will capture, create and share the stories of Māori patients', whānau and clinicians.

“This will involve co-designing digital video stories with Māori patients and whānau across New Zealand using a group-based, digital storytelling method to capture their life journeys before opioid use, barriers and enablers during opioid reduction, and life after opioid tapering. We will also
collect clinicians' stories to capture the challenges they face when facilitating opioid tapering consultations.

“Our ultimate aim is to help all patients engage in clinical conversations of tapering opioids by introducing stories of peers which they can relate to. Hearing from similar others through their tapering journeys may allow patients to consider opioid tapering for themselves in a way that none of their previous clinical interactions have,” he says.

Ms Davies says this is an integral study that has evolved from earlier research work with whānau and their community.

“We provided a safe space for whānau to begin sharing their journeys with pain and the harmful effects they felt from long-term prescribing of opioids. We feel extremely privileged to have this opportunity to continue this important research work and I am sure we will all gain valuable knowledge from hearing our whānau share their journeys with pain through digital video storytelling.”


New Zealand Lottery Grants Board, Translational Research Project

Associate Professor Aniruddha Chatterjee, Pathology $119,990

Discovery of epigenetic markers for early detection of colorectal cancer

We aim to establish and validate a panel of blood-derived DNA methylation markers to improve screening of colorectal cancer (CRC), also known as bowel cancer. Existing data from ourselves and others, supports the likelihood that DNA methylation markers will enable early detection of CRC. In a cohort of participants scheduled for colonoscopic screening, we will isolate circulating free DNA (cfDNA) from blood plasma for large-scale DNA methylation analysis. The methylation patterns of participants with a positive detection of CRC found by colonoscopy will be compared with those with negative findings, which will identify a panel of discriminatory DNA methylation markers.

Dr Adele Woolley, Pathology, $38,500

MetaSystems mFISH Image Analysis System

This application is for the purchase of a MetaSystems mFISH Image Analysis System to be used for translational research. mFISH (multicolour Fluorescence In Situ hybridization) is a technique for labelling and detecting specific regions of DNA sequence on a chromosome, used for both research and clinical purposes. It can be used to differentially label entire chromosomes or specific sequences of DNA. It has significant clinical applications, both in terms of the early diagnosis of specific chromosomal mutations/translocations and in the ongoing monitoring of chromosomal instability (CIN) during disease progression

Dr Chris Button, School of Physical Education, $61,009

Does body composition help to explain individual differences in floating capacity?

Our ultimate aim is to reduce the inequities in drowning statistics that have haunted New Zealand for several decades. We will do this by generating new knowledge about body composition and individual variation in human capacity to float that will inform targeted water safety education. The intent is not to stigmatise certain body shapes or types but instead to help those people most at risk about simple strategies they can use that might save their lives.

Professor Rachael Taylor, Medicine (DSM), $119,602

The hour before bedtime: what should kids really be doing?

We seek funding for a novel study to determine if current sleep guidelines aimed at youth are fit for purpose. There is no doubt that sleep is critical for health and wellbeing; children who get enough good-quality sleep are more able to manage the highs and lows of daily life. However, we do not currently know how best to improve sleep in children. Although guidelines for promoting good sleep health exist, some of these guidelines are not truly evidence-based, but extrapolated from research in adults or developed from expert opinion in the absence of better evidence. However, children are not mini-adults, and their sleep needs and pre-bedtime behaviours can be very different. Importantly, the possibility of unintended adverse outcomes also exists.

We propose an experimental trial to provide direct evidence on the impact of screen time, activity, and diet before bed, on how well and how long children sleep. Our study has two major strengths – the study design (experimental trial), and how we will assess what, when and where children spend their time before bed. First, our crossover design will compare how different behaviours influence sleep and wellbeing within each child. Second, we will harness the power of technology to accurately measure pre-bed behaviours of interest by using wearable cameras. These cameras provide incredibly rich data on complex human behaviours that is simply not possible from questionnaires, which have been used in the limited prior research to date. We have worked extensively with these cameras, with families reporting they are acceptable, considered low burden (easier than questionnaires), and do not influence the child's behaviour. We have developed coding schedules that reliably measure when and how children interact with digital media, the intensity of the exercise they undertake, and timing and amount of food intake. Such data have never been obtained previously, in New Zealand or indeed internationally.

Dr Kim O'Sullivan, Public Health (UOW), $119,502

Toast Energy: Evaluating the health and wellbeing effects of a community-led energy wellbeing intervention

This project has been developed in collaboration with Sustainability Trust and the final methods to be used will be refined in codesign workshops with Sustainability Trust's new initiative, Toast Electric, and their other community partners who will be referring households to the Energy Wellbeing Programme such as Wellington City Mission and Tu Kōtahi Māori Asthma Research Trust. This project will develop innovative research tools to provide the evidence base to inform and empower policy that supports our partners' aspirations and the range of whānau-centred interventions that they want to deliver. Lotteries funding from this bid will support the research project through meeting salary costs of the research team, and operating expenses to monitor indoor environmental conditions of bedrooms, measure stress biomarkers, koha to participants for their involvement, and hold hui with community partners and participants to codesign the research and share the results.

Dr Sarah McKenzie, Psychological Medicine (UOW), $112,536

Picturing the invisible: A photovoice study with men who have experienced mild traumatic brain injuries

We are requesting funding to conduct a community-based participatory research project with men who have lived experience of mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), commonly called concussion. This project will involve working with men as co-researchers, to document through photographs and stories, their experiences of sustaining and recovering from MTBI; and to co-design a series of community-based photo exhibitions to disseminate the study findings to a range of audiences and locations including TBI support communities, concussion service providers, the whānau of those with brain injuries, and men themselves.

Dr Bronwen McNoe, Preventive & Social Medicine (DSM), $87,543

Sun protection for children in New Zealand playgrounds, outdoor pools and skate parks: national audit to inform local government action

As detailed in the project plan, skin cancer is a significant health issue in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) accounting for 80 per cent of all cancer. This includes melanoma the most deadly of the skin cancers. Over exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR), primarily the sun, is the main, preventable cause of the majority of skin cancers. This is particularly important during childhood and the evidence supports the importance of sun protection at this life stage for reducing the risk of skin cancer development. Young children are thought to be especially vulnerable to skin damage from the sun because they have lower levels of melanin (skin pigmentation) and a thinner stratum corneum (outer skin layer) than adults. Research has shown that children who spend longer periods outdoors in high UVR environments develop more melanocytic naevi ('moles') than children in lower UVR environments. Melanocytic naevi are associated with melanoma development.

Children's engagement in active play is important for weight control, cognitive development, psychological health and sleep. Public outdoor recreational areas such as outdoor swimming pools, playgrounds, and skateparks facilitate active play in an enjoyable way. Children do spend considerable amounts of time in these outdoor spaces which does potentially put them at risk for over exposure to UVR. For fair-skinned children not using sun protection in summer months, just 10–15 minutes of UVR exposure is likely to result in sunburn and potential skin damage. Hence, it is critical that while using these facilities that children are protected from over exposure to UVR, sunburn and skin damage. Good quality shade can reduced UVR exposure by more than 75 per cent. When used in combination with other protective measures such as sun protective hats and clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen, shade is the best way to provide maximum protection against UVR.

The funding for this project would be used to conduct an audit benchmarking the availability of shade in public recreational areas (specifically playgrounds, outdoor swimming pools and skate parks) where children congregate for extended periods of time. We have conducted pilot research (funded by the Cancer Society) to fully develop the data collection methods that we would use. The responsibility for inclusion of shade in public recreational areas is the responsibility of the Territorial Local Authority (TLA). The primary purpose of the findings from the proposed study would be to develop a 'map of shade availability' for each type of recreational area for each TLA. This would be used by the Cancer Society, other non-government organisations and the community for advocacy efforts with TLAs to encourage shade installation in the 67 TLAs across the country. The details of the mechanism for this is provided in the 'what are the expected outcomes and benefits' section.

Associate Professor Ben Wheeler, Women's and Children's Health (DSM), $51,953

Can sleep in children and young adults with unhealthy diabetes be improved with artificial pancreas therapy?

We are applying for funding to add an important sub-study to a currently funded clinical trial using an advanced artificial pancreas system to children and youth (adolescents and young adults) affected by type 1 diabetes. This is a nationwide collaborative study between Otago, Canterbury, Wellington, Waikato, and Auckland (the first study our collaborative team has done spanning all the 5 major diabetes clinical and research centres of New Zealand). The funds requested along with some working expenses will largely fund salary for research staff based out of Dunedin to conduct the sleep sub-study (This will largely be done remotely using courier and zoom appointments – skills we have perfected during the COVID pandemic).

Professor Margreet Vissers, Pathology and Biomedical Science (UOC), $86,256

Determining the need for Vitamin C intervention in outpatient groups

We are requesting funds for a clinical study to test the use of a point-of-care meter to measure vitamin C status. Currently, the vitamin C status is very rarely (if ever) measured in any patient group, leaving both doctors and patients in the dark as to whether sufficient amounts of the vitamin are being supplied by the patient's diet to maintain healthy plasma levels.

Vitamin C supports many body functions, including immune health, vitality, mood and wound healing. Humans are completely dependent upon dietary intake, and daily needs are impacted by health status, with more rapid turnover of the vitamin during illness. It has been shown that dietary intake to match the increased rate of loss of vitamin C during illness may require supplementation.

However, whether supplementation or dietary boosting is required is generally unclear as measurement of vitamin C status is currently a complex procedure that is rarely available to clinicians and patients.

Professor Louise Signal, Public Health (UOW), $117,487

Bombarding Children with Booze? An objective analysis of children's exposure to alcohol online and what to do about it

Alcohol marketing is a key driver of alcohol-related harm (1–3). Yet, there is little objective evidence on children's exposure to digital alcohol content. The Kids Online Project uses a novel, proven methodology to generate a unique and rich dataset that provides up-to-date insights into the young New Zealanders' online environments. Children's exposure to, and engagement with, a range of features of children's online environments is captured and objectively assessed. Data collection is underway to collect four days of online activity of 60 (20 Māori, 20 Pacific and 20 non-Māori non-Pacific) Year 8 children from the Wellington region.

We are seeking funding to perform a secondary analysis of Kids Online data to:

  1. Determine the nature and extent of children's exposure to alcohol marketing online and explore differences by gender, ethnicity and deprivation.
  2. Examine the effectiveness of existing regulation aiming to protect children from digital alcohol marketing; identify the types of alcohol content that circumvents these regulations; and explore policies to better protect children from online alcohol marketing.
  3. Develop an online algorithm to detect children's online exposure to alcohol marketing, to inform ongoing research and keep pace with the rapidly changing online world.

Dr Nick Fleming, Pathology (DSM), $89,981

Towards targeted immunotherapy of bowel cancers in Southern Aotearoa/New Zealand

The proposed project will extend a highly successful line of investigation of colorectal cancer (CRC) in Southern New Zealand, which has suggested that a high level of hypermutation subtype CRC is present in the region. Importantly, this finding is relevant to the potential use of an emerging breakthrough class of therapeutics called the immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs). The work has also identified two single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that may act as biomarkers alongside hypermutation, for directing the use of ICIs in CRC. The studies were facilitated by previous funding by Lotteries Health Research (LHR), and currently we have co-funding from a Health Research Council (HRC) Career Development Award that will cover the salary costs of the PI in the first year of the work. This studies are expected to aid prediction of patient response to ICIs and expand the number who can benefit from them.

Dr Geri McLeod, Psychological Medicine (UOC), $43,664

Measuring the skin metabolome to determine menopause status

All mid-life women and biological females will experience a transition to menopause. It is well-documented that the transition to menopause and post-menopausal life is often associated with significant physical and psychosocial symptomatology. Younger age at menopause has also been linked to impaired bone health, increased risk of cardiovascular problems and mortality. Knowledge of menopause status (pre-, peri-, and post-menopause) is of critical importance for women/females and their doctors to help identify those at risk for early natural menopause, reduce health risks and achieve equity. Therefore, a reliable diagnostic tool for menopause status is urgently required.

This application seeks funding to develop a new, non-invasive biomedical approach for the assessment of menopause status (pre-, peri-, post menopause), based on skin metabolite measurements. This method will build on previous research that has established that the reduction in reproductive hormones during menopause transition leads to loss of skin elasticity, drier and more fragile skin, and associated bruising and impaired wound healing. As the skin surface is a reservoir of a diverse range of lipids and metabolites that result from the interaction between skin cells, other parts of the body, the environment and the skin microbiome, we postulate that the hormonal changes that occur with menopause will be reflected in the skin metabolome (collectively the metabolites and lipids present on skin). This is supported by our earlier pilot study which found markedly different skin metabolite profiles between the ages of 18–50, 50–60, and 61–70 years. We are requesting funding to support the next step in this development of an unbiased, non-invasive skin metabolite measure to classify menopause status.

New Zealand Lottery Grants Board, PhD Scholarship

Rowan Pollock, Pharmacy, $120,000

Guiding the waka: navigating the complexity of access to medicines for minor aliments in Aotearoa New Zealand.

I'm seeking funding to carry out my PhD, which is focused on understanding the complexity of access to medicine for minor ailments in Aotearoa New Zealand. This research will show the cost differences to the patient and health system when seeking treatment for minor ailments from different care providers and the factors that influence patients' choices as to which provider they present for treatment. Ultimately, the goal is to remove barriers and make treatment for minor ailments more accessible.

New Zealand Lottery Grants Board, Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Brendon Roxburgh, Surgical Sciences (DSM), $159,678

Passive heat therapy for improving hauora in patients with hypertension

This fellowship will initially investigate the effects of a single session of heat therapy (hot-water bathing) on 24-h blood pressure; this will help to find the optimal “dose” (i.e. duration and water temperature) of heat therapy, and to uncover the mechanisms responsible for reductions in blood pressure. This initial research will then inform a larger clinical trial investigating the effects of heat therapy on blood pressure and other aspects of hauora in patients with hypertension. We hope findings from this research will inspire and empower Māori to reconnect with a traditional form of healing that not only benefits heart health, but also taha wairua (spiritual wellbeing), taha whānau (family health) and taha hinengaro (mental health).

Samuel Wardell, Microbiology and Immunology, $160,000

Molecular mechanisms underlying pathogen adaptation of antibiotic tolerance

Antibiotics are one of the most important and successful medicines. However, treatment with antibiotics frequently fails to fully eradicate infection causing bacteria. Resistance to antibiotics is a well-established driver of increased morbidity and mortality within patients. Bacterial infections can often be tolerant to antibiotics with a variety of factors contributing. One understudied area of how bacteria survive antibiotic treatment is that of antibiotic tolerance, where bacteria rapidly adapt during an infection, creating a niche evading antibiotic treatment. The concerning nature of antibiotic tolerance is that the bacteria appear sensitive to antibiotics when tested in a laboratory setting but are recalcitrant to treatment in a patient, thus reducing the therapeutic effectiveness of antibiotics. This proposed research uses computational and experimental approaches to identify the wide array of genes responsible for pathogen adaptation of antibiotic tolerance (the tolerome) and test the mechanisms by which they survive treatment, to better understand how to eradicate these difficult-to-treat infections. This funding will directly support the aims and hypotheses as outlined in the attached research plan and provide salary to be able to undertake this critical work.

Health Research Council

Health Delivery Research Project Grant

Dr Hemakumar Devan, Department of Medicine (UOW), $1,399,792

Co-designing whānau stories to reduce opioid use for chronic pain in Aotearoa

Chronic non-cancer pain is a public health burden affecting one in five New Zealanders. Opioids are commonly used for pain relief in chronic non-cancer pain and although beneficial in the short-term, long-term use risks include addiction and early mortality. While clinical guidelines recommend a gradual reduction in opioids (i.e. opioid tapering), both patients and clinicians find this tapering process challenging. There is no research on long-term opioid use and tapering processes for non-cancer pain management. With significant inequities for Māori, culturally responsive treatment strategies are urgently needed. Stories are simple, yet powerful tools to improve health behaviours and culturally appropriate pūrākau tools for Māori. This project has two aims: (1) to co-produce a story-based, whānau-focused opioid tapering intervention for people with chronic non-cancer pain, and (2) to evaluate the clinical implementation of this story-telling intervention in four tertiary pain services (Wellington, Auckland, Counties-Manukau and Waitemata) and four primary care practices.

Dr Sarah Gordon, Department of Psychological Medicine (UOW), $1,399,977

Enabling supported decision-making: mental health advance preference statements

Changes to mental health legislation in Aotearoa necessitates responsiveness to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires individuals being supported to make their own mental health treatment decisions in accord with their will and preferences. This is known as supported decision-making. Our health delivery research activation activity involved service users and providers identifying and prioritising supported decision-making interventions that have the potential to lead to the greatest improvements in mental health outcomes. Pre-event planning and post-event debriefing were strongly endorsed forms of intervention, particularly by stakeholders from Māori, Pasifika, family, and consumer worker perspectives. Our other foundational work has indicated that advance preference statements can successfully facilitate pre-event planning, especially at times when communicating will and preferences is difficult. This project will change practice in a way that will improve outcomes by developing, implementing, and evaluating advance care statements across various mental health services

Health Delivery Research Activation Grant 1

Professor Leigh Hale, Physiotherapy, $30,000

Exploring supported “self”-management within Aotearoa's shifting health context

Healthcare in Aotearoa New Zealand is transforming, rapidly triggering both excitement and anxiety. The experiences of COVID pandemic and that which will occur during the upcoming health reforms have caused reflection on current models of healthcare service and how to optimise future healthcare delivery. In this research activity, the research team will partner with Turanga Health to assist them with this reflection and forward planning. An e-survey will be developed and implemented to explore Turanga Health service users' experiences and perceptions of managing their health and wellbeing through the pandemic and as the new health reforms unfold. A focus will be on whānau living with lifelong health conditions and those experiencing learning disability. The findings will provide a strong steer to the development of future models of healthcare practice and will form the development of projects exploring what supported “self”-management could look like in Aotearoa for underserviced and vulnerable populations.

Health Delivery Research Activation Grant 2

Dr Daniela Aldabe, Physiotherapy, $20,494

Better care for people with neurological disorders and LUTS

Lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) such as urinary incontinence and frequently experiencing the desire to urinate significantly affect people with neurological disorders. LUTS negatively affects activity and participation of people with neurological conditions and is linked to poorer rehabilitation outcomes and psychological distress. It is unknown how much knowledge healthcare professionals have regarding managing LUTS in people with neurological disorders and what barriers they face when delivering care for that population. This project aims to establish relationships with healthcare professionals who work with people with neurological conditions and identify those barriers.

Dr Katie Douglas, Psychological Medicine (UOC), $29,393

Development of a brain training intervention for student mental health

Prevalence of mood disorders in New Zealand is highest for younger age groups and our rates of suicide are amongst the worst in the OECD. Depression in young adulthood is an important remediable risk factor for suicide. A key factor relating to onset and persistence of depression is 'rumination', a thinking style involving excessive and repetitive focus on mood symptoms. This project will involve development of an innovative online Cognitive Control Training (CCT) intervention which targets rumination. The CCT intervention will be designed with strong input from lived experience and Māori partners, and in collaboration with researchers with international expertise in digital interventions. Following development, we will assess preliminary feasibility and acceptability of the intervention in a small number of participants, which will guide future, larger clinical trials.

Dr Jennifer Dunn, Orthopaedic Surgery and Musculoskeletal Medicine (UOC), $29,927

Developing Early Vocational Rehabilitation after Stroke (EVIS) teams and methods

Of the 8000 New Zealanders who experience stroke annually, many are of working age wanting to return to work (RTW). One method of supporting RTW is vocational rehabilitation. Early Intervention Vocational Rehabilitation (EIVR) is vocational rehabilitation that commences during the primary/hospital rehabilitation phase, often within weeks following onset of acquired disability. Previous work by the research team has developed a conceptual model of EIVR. This model offers an opportunity to develop new ways of providing vocational rehabilitation within existing stroke services. Preliminary work developing the model has highlighted that vocational rehabilitation services for the New Zealand stroke population are delivered in an ad hoc manner via various and often fragmented services. This creates a challenge for implementing new initiatives. Our aims are to build capacity, establish relationships and engage with stakeholders in Auckland and Rotorua as preparatory work for a larger follow-on study aiming to implement EIVR in these regions.

Dr Emily Gray, Physiotherapy, $29,941

Increasing the accessibility and reach of cardiac rehabilitation in New Zealand

Cardiac rehabilitation following a heart attack or heart surgery provides many physical, psychological and quality of life related benefits, and reduces rates of hospital readmission. However many people are unable to access cardiac rehabilitation due to lack of transport or living too far away to attend a hospital-based programme and/or services not being provided in their local area. The focus of this project is to explore alternative models for cardiac rehabilitation that enable improved access for New Zealanders. The project will involve a thorough review of the literature to identify patient preferences for home or community based cardiac rehabilitation service delivery. The team will also engage with people who have cardiovascular disease, community stakeholder organisations and clinicians involved in providing cardiac rehabilitation services, including Māori and Pasifika health providers. This feedback will help support the development of frameworks for alternative cardiac rehabilitation service provision in New Zealand.

Christopher Higgs, Physiotherapy, $29,795

Transdisciplinary teams in primary care: The Health Hub Project NZ test case

New Zealand is currently experiencing a period of significant health care reform with a focus on how primary care services might best support the needs of communities and be delivered in equitable, whānau-centred, and sustainable ways. This reform presents opportunities for exploring innovative models of health service delivery, including the transdisciplinary team approach employed by Health Hub Project New Zealand (HHPNZ), a general practice located in Palmerston North. This model of care transcends disciplinary boundaries to focus on real-world health encounters through shared knowledge, skills and decision making. The proposed research activities aim to consolidate working relationships with HHPNZ and to examine their transdisciplinary team model of service from a data and workforce development perspective. Importantly, activities include community engagement with Māori and Pacific peoples to help understand the models of service that best support the priorities of their communities.

Jo Hilder, Primary Health Care and General Practice (UOW), $29,995

Co-designing research on innovative vaccine delivery models for Māori and Pasifika

During the COVID‑19 pandemic Māori and Pasifika have had higher infection and hospitalisation rates, and lower vaccination rates, than the general population. A range of innovative models of vaccination delivery has been implemented, including non-registered healthcare workers to deliver vaccines under supervision, as well as innovative community-based outreach strategies (e.g. marae and pop-up clinics, drive-through events and mobile vaccination) and an increasing role of pharmacies. This project plans to develop relationships between experienced health researchers and a number of Māori/Pasifika health providers around the motu and co-design a research project to explore and learn from these innovations. The outcome will be a qualitative translational research plan and methodology that will be truly beneficial and useful to the organisations and communities involved. The overall aim of the research will be to explore the views of vaccine recipients, service providers and kaumatua within these communities, and develop policy recommendations to reduce inequities.

Associate Professor Cameron Lacey, Psychological Medicine (UOC), $30,000

Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy for treatment-resistant depression

Major depressive disorders are experienced as recurrent and disabling mental health conditions. Despite the range of pharmacotherapy options, treatment of depression to full symptomatic and functional recovery remains challenging. The most widely used treatment for MDD is antidepressants but one third of patients did not achieve remission. Those who do not achieve remission following multiple treatments have a very poor prognosis which supports the need to examine novel treatment approaches. This study will examine the feasibility and acceptability of integrating psilocybin into interpersonal social rhythms therapy for people with treatment-resistant major depression.

Dr Christopher Paton, Information Science, $27,416

Designing accessible and equitable New Zealand telehealth services

We will conduct clinical co-design workshops and modelling studies to conduct a preliminary assessment of existing and new technologies for supporting telehealth services for rural communities in the Otago region of New Zealand. This research aims to prepare for a larger study into the clinical effectiveness of telehealth technologies for supporting health delivery in rural settings by establishing and sensitising a clinical co-design group and research sites, and performing modelling studies of current and near-future digital technologies used for telehealth.

Dr Annie Wong, Medicine (UOW), $27,200

Circulating tumour DNA in improving the diagnosis of lung cancer

Lung cancer is New Zealand's top cancer research priority as it is the leading cause of cancer-related death and disproportionately disadvantages Māori and Pacific people. We aim to improve the diagnostic process of lung cancer by replacing invasive biopsies with a blood-based test of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA). This study plans to prove the effectiveness of a customised blood test on patients with lung cancer with known gene mutations. Development of ctDNA technology will directly benefit patients by reducing diagnostic times from months to days and identifying patients who will benefit from life-saving targeted treatment. Establishing ctDNA research collaborations nationally and internationally will benefit lung cancer outcomes as well as other cancers such as colon cancer, breast cancer and melanoma.

For more information, contact:

Lea Jones
Media Engagement Adviser
External Engagement
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 279 4969

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