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Novel treatments under spotlight with HRC funding

Wednesday 29 May 2019 9:42pm

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Members of the Otago Research Collaboration for Knee Arthritis (from left) Associate Professor Rebecca Grainger (Wellington), Dr Ben Hudson (Christchurch), Dr Ben Darlow (Wellington) and Associate Professor Eileen McKinlay (Wellington).

Three University of Otago researchers have together been awarded $737,796 by the Health Research Council to undertake feasibility studies for potential larger studies, which all aim to improve the health of New Zealanders.

Two projects from the University of Otago, Christchurch, are successful and another from the Wellington campus.

Associate Professor Caroline Bell from the Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch, receives $247,231 to investigate a new psychological group treatment for anxiety and depression in primary care. Her colleague in the department, Professor Richard Porter, receives $241,384 to investigate the effectiveness of Social Rhythm and Bright Light Therapies in treating patients with treatment-resistant bipolar disorder. Dr Ben Darlow from the Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice, Wellington, receives $249,181 to investigate reducing the burden of knee osteoarthritis through community pharmacy. All of the research projects will be carried out over two years.

"This study will assess the feasibility of a clinical trial exploring the impact on health outcomes when community pharmacists provide novel health information to people with knee osteoarthritis."

Knee osteoarthritis is a common and disabling condition affecting hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders and costing the country billions of dollars annually.

Dr Darlow explains the impact of osteoarthritis could be greatly reduced through relatively low-cost but high-value care that can be provided in the community.

“This study will assess the feasibility of a clinical trial exploring the impact on health outcomes when community pharmacists provide novel health information to people with knee osteoarthritis.”

The feasibility study will investigate a number of things including whether it is possible to engage people with knee osteoarthritis through community pharmacies and whether community pharmacists are able to integrate the provision of information and support to people with this condition into their work.

Dr Darlow explains this project has grown out of an Otago Medical School Collaborative Research Grant awarded in 2016 and includes investigators from all three campuses.

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Associate Professor Caroline Bell.

Associate Professor Bell’s research aims to investigate whether group transdiagnostic treatment for people with anxiety and depression is an efficient model of treatment.

“Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health presentations in primary care and are currently treated by individual Cognitive Behaviour Therapy-informed sessions by brief intervention counsellors,” she explains.

“This may not be the most effective or efficient model of treatment. We hypothesise group transdiagnostic treatment will allow for treatment of more people with the same clinician resource and be more effective than treatment currently offered.”

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Professor Richard Porter.

Professor Porter will use his grant to investigate the effectiveness of Social Rhythm and Bright Light Therapies in treating patients with treatment-resistant bipolar disorder. 

A consultant psychiatrist and Professor in the Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch, he says psychotherapies have been developed which have shown to impact upon this disturbance, and to reduce relapse – like Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy. Recent evidence also suggests that Bright Light Therapy may also be helpful.

“However, patients rarely receive these therapies in clinical practice. Medications are usually the only treatment option available in mental health services, yet many patients have an inadequate response to these, with results in ongoing symptoms and relapse,” Professor Porter says.

“We aim to evaluate, in a full study, the effectiveness of combined Social Rhythm Therapy – a modified form of Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy – together with Bright Light Therapy in treating patients with ‘treatment resistant’ bipolar disorder. Prior to embarking upon this, feasibility issues need to be clarified.”

Nationally, the HRC has this year awarded just over $1.9 million for eight feasibility studies. These grants go towards testing the critical, practical issues affecting a planned, larger study.