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Therapist ‘stoked’ rehabilitation research secures HRC funding

Thursday 16 May 2019 11:05pm

Dr Fiona Graham.

Occupational therapist Dr Fiona Graham is excited the Health Research Council (HRC) is funding a study she is leading with the aim of improving the quality of life for children with disabilities.

Dr Graham is one of seven University of Otago researchers to receive support from HRC’s Emerging Research First Grant – a fund dedicated to people who are in the early stages of their research career – which were announced today.

Together, the seven Otago researchers have secured $1,714,369.

Dr Graham, a Senior Lecturer in the Rehabilitation Teaching & Research Unit in the Department of Medicine, Wellington, receives $233,618 to trial an Occupational Performance Coaching intervention, a family-centred approach that empowers caregivers to support their children with neuro-developmental disabilities to achieve their goals of participating more fully in society.

"The fact the HRC has awarded this grant to explore ways to improve the quality of their lives and to help them live well despite disability is very exciting."

It is often difficult for rehabilitation interventions to secure research funding, Dr Graham explains, as rehabilitation deals in the “messy reality of people’s daily life where there is lots of variation in how people live”. This is challenging to match with the rigorous design requirements of research funders like the HRC.

“This time we pulled it off and HRC have recognised that research of rehabilitation interventions can’t follow a simple design formula,” Dr Graham says.

“I’m also pretty stoked for the families of children with disabilities. They are a small health consumer group and there are no magic answers for the challenges they face. The fact the HRC has awarded this grant to explore ways to improve the quality of their lives and to help them live well despite disability is very exciting.”

University of Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie says he is extremely pleased the HRC is supporting the country’s future research leaders.

Together, the Otago researchers receive about half of the national share of funding with nearly $3.7 million awarded nationally to 15 recipients. This is more than last year when six Otago researchers were successful in securing almost $1.5 million.

“The University is very pleased to see these outstanding young health researchers being supported as their careers develop with projects that are likely to lead to important developments in health in all cases.”

Other successful researchers are:

HRC-Julie-Bennett-small-image2 Dr Julie Bennett
Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington
Characteristics of S.pyogenes isolated prior to rheumatic fever diagnosis
Acute rheumatic fever and its serious complication, rheumatic heart disease, are preventable diseases triggered by the bacterium S.pyogenes, more commonly known as group A strep. New Zealand has unacceptably high rates of rheumatic fever in Māori and Pacific children, which cause unnecessary suffering and death. Currently, it is not known if group A strep infections (skin and throat infections) isolated prior to the development of rheumatic fever, are the same as those that are isolated when a person is diagnosed with rheumatic fever. This study will provide this data. This data is necessary to predict coverage of vaccines currently being developed and could assist in the design of these vaccines for at-risk groups.
HRC-Ayesha-Verrall-small-image2 Dr Ayesha Verrall
Pathology and Molecular Medicine, University of Otago, Wellington
An epigenetic marker of BCG protection from M.tuberculosis
The tuberculosis (TB) vaccine BCG is the world’s most widely administered vaccine, yet it is not known how its partial protection works. The proposal is to recruit people with TB from Indonesia to identify epigenetic markers of BCG protection. This study will assist the development of better vaccines by advancing understanding of protective immunity to TB and potentially providing a marker of protection for use in future clinical trials.
HRC-Janice-Chew-Haris-small-image2 Dr Janice Chew-Harris
University of Otago, Christchurch
A SuPAR prognostic indicator of cardiovascular risk and outcomes
Heart disease remains a leading cause of death in New Zealand. This disease is highly complex and has a substantial component of inflammatory dysfunction. Very recently, a blood marker known as soluble urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (suPAR) has been suggested to be important in the regulation of low-grade chronic inflammation in heart disease related processes. This project aims to determine if suPAR concentrations are altered in patients with cardiovascular disease and whether it can be used as a biological marker to aid in predicting those who are at greatest risk of adverse outcomes.
HRC-Gabriella-Lindberg-small-image2 Dr Gabriella Lindberg
Orthopaedics & Musculoskeletal Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch
Oxygen control in 3D-bioprinted osteochondral constructs
Nearly 17 per cent of New Zealanders suffer from osteoarthritis, causing a significant amount of pain, disability and economic burden estimated to cost $3.2 billion annually. The gold standard clinical treatment remains harvesting a portion of the patient’s own tissues, which is limited by availability and/or incomplete healing. The emerging field of 3D-bioprinting holds great promise to address these challenges. This project will help alleviate current issues faced in the shortage of personalised orthopaedic replacement grafts for healing of common joint defects. The researchers aim to develop oxygen-carrying bioinks for sophisticated oxygen delivery and functional regeneration of tissues.
HRC-Prasath-Jayakaran-small-image2 Dr Prasath Jayakaran
School of Physiotherapy, University of Otago, Dunedin
Sensory organisation for balance control in children with strabismus
Strabismus, or misalignment of the eyes, is a relatively common childhood disorder with an incidence of about 4 per cent in children under 6 years. While it primarily affects the visual field and the perception of the environment, its effects on balance control is largely unexplored. The research will investigate whether balance control is affected in children with strabismus. Results will provide insight about the nature of compensatory postural adjustments taking place in children with the disease and whether an intervention is needed to improve balance in these children.

Dr Trudy Sullivan
Preventive & Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin
Valuing health-related quality of life in New Zealand
The valuation of health states is of public health significance in New Zealand. Currently, health agencies and researchers use a health-related quality of life tool (EQ-5D-3L) to help decide which medicines and health technologies to fund. The aim of this project is to validate an updated version of the tool and to explore the health-related preferences of New Zealanders with specific focus on Māori and people with chronic disease or illness.