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University Of Otago Scoops HRC Funding

17 May 2002

Otago researchers receive 50 per cent of available health research funding

A total of 27 Otago University research projects -- ranging from gene technologies in the fight against colorectal cancer to exploring attention deficit disorder in children to improving Maori dental services -- received funding from the Health Research Council this year. In its best performance yet, Otago won $16.58 million or 50 per cent of the total available funding.

"This is a stellar result for the University of Otago, one which clearly commends the superior quality of health research being conducted by our researchers," says Vice Chancellor Dr Graeme Fogelberg. "I am immensely proud of our staff for their outstanding achievements in a highly competitive field."

Last year, Otago also led the way, receiving $14.39 million or 46 per cent of available funding for 17 projects, noted Dr Fogelberg. Those results were impressive enough, but the fact that the University was able to improve its standing this year was due in part to the extraordinary efforts of Otago researchers, he says.

"Our very best researchers really came through for us. To a one, they submitted research proposals which not only demonstrate sound science, but will potentially result in real health benefits to New Zealand society."


Professor Anthony Reeve, "Predicting colorectal cancer outcome using gene expression profiling," $1.286 million over three years. Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in New Zealand. This study will use new gene technologies to distinguish between cancers that are cured by standard treatment and those that recur.

Dr Parry Guilford, "The initiation, progression, and chemoprevention of hereditary diffuse gastric cancer"($1.019 million over three years). This research aims to improve understanding of an inherited stomach cancer syndrome that is particularly common in Maori.

Dr Michael Hubbard and Dr Rod Sayer, "Calbindin phosphorylation in dental enamel cells and brain" ($943,000 over three years). Calbindins are proteins that bind calcium insides cells. The study will look at cellular processes that underlie dental enamel formation and neurodegenerative disorders.

Dr Marion Maw, "Genes responsible for retinal disorders: Identification and characterization" ($832,000 over three years). The retina is the light-sensing layer of tissue in the eye. Inherited retinal disorders affect about 1,000 New Zealanders and impair their ability to readily access education, gain employment and lead active lives. This project will identify the genes responsible to improve prospects of developing effective treatments.

Professor Wickliffe Abraham (Division of Sciences) and Professor Warren Tate, "Mechanism of nervous system dysfunction early in Alzheimer's disease" ($597,000 over three years). Amyoloid-related proteins play a role in Alzheimer's disease, and yet somehow are also involved in normal brain activity. Using the rat brain as a model, the study will attempt to discover how these proteins work, and how their disruption may underlie memory loss seen early in Alzheimer's sufferers. Professor Abraham also received $1.2 million for the final 2 years of a 10-year study into brain memory mechanisms.


Professor John Campbell, "Interventions to prevent falls and injury in elderly people with impaired vision" ($933,000 over three years). Falls are very common in elderly people with poor vision and such accidents have serious consequences. This project will test home-based exercises and Vitamin D supplements to improve muscle strength and balance, and look at ways homes can be modified to decrease the chances of falls and improve independence and quality of life.

Dr Barbara Galland, "Sleep pathology in children with ADHD", ($389,000 over 30 months). Children with sleep disorders can have difficulty concentrating during waking hours. How much this contributes to the 44,000 NZ children diagnosed with ADHD is unknown. This study proposes to find out.

Dr Hilda Firth, "Work-related determinants of health, safety and well-being of New Zealanders", ($284,000 over 18 months). Little is known in New Zealand about the state of work environments or their impact on health. This project will develop methods and assess the feasibility of characterising work-related hazards in NZ, their associated health effects and the impact these hazards may have on different worker socio-economic groups.

Dr Robin Taylor, ($148,000 over 18 months). What's known as a 'b-receptor' controls the action of asthma reliever medication. Genetic differences have been identified in these b-receptors which influence adverse responses to Ventolin, the commonly-used reliever. This study will further define the relationships between b-receptor genotypes and drug responses in asthma.

Associate Professor John Broughton, "Oranga niho: A kaupapa Maori review of Maori dental health service provision" ($38,000 over two years). Maori do not enjoy the same dental health status as non-Maori across all age group. There are barriers to good dental health for Maori, and this study will identify the issues in the development, implementation and operation of Maori dental services.


Professor Mark Richards, two projects: "Humoral, Ultrasonographic and Genetic prediction and protection in Heart Disease", ($2.260 million, for first 3 years of programme) and "BNP infusions and ventricular remodelling in acute myocardial infarction" ($159,000 over three years). The first programme directed by Professor Richards will define the roles of newly-discovered hormones, cardiac ultrasound measurements and gene variants in predicting the progression of heart failure and new coronary illness The second study will look at the potentially protective action of the cardiac hormone BNP. This study will test the potential benefits of administering synthetic BNP after heart attack.

Dr Christine Winterbourne, "Oxidants, antioxidants and inflammatory diseases" ($1.922 million for the first three years of the programme). This programme focuses on reactive oxidants that are important in aging and inflammatory disease and will determine how these oxidants affect vital functions of cells or destroy them.

Professor Ian Town, "Atopy and asthma at age six amongst the infant cohort study" ($1.323 million over five years). This project will involve 1,000 children enrolled in the infant cohort study in Wellington and Christchurch. It will examine, among other factors, risk factors in the first six years of life for atopy, atopic disease and airway disease.

Dr Derelie Richards, "A study of dose response association between infant iron status and later cognitive functioning"($696,000 over five years). This study will measure iron levels in 500 infants at 15 months, and examine the relationship of those levels to cognitive ability, behaviour and motor function measured at age six.

Dr Annette Beautrais, "A 10-year follow-up study of serious attempted suicide", $167,000 over three years. Over 300 people who've made serious suicide attempts have been followed up after six, 18, 30 and 60 months to determine how they are doing. This study will follow up after 10 years which no previous study has done with such a large number of suicide-attempters.

Dr Jacqueline Keenan, "Helicobacter pylori infection, host iron deficiency and the risk of disease" ($100,000 over two years). Helicobacter pylori is a stomach bacterium that causes ulcers and gastric cancer. This bacterium releases small vesicles


Associate Professor Julian Crane, two projects: "A trial of the effect of probiotics on the development of atopy and eczema in children"( $990,000 over three years), and "The use of probiotic bacteria in the treatment of atopy and eczema in children" ($121,000 over one year) . Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as yoghurt. When given to infants they may have a protective effect on the development of allergy by strengthening the immune system. The first study aims to determine whether probiotic dietary supplements to infants will help reduce the prevalence of atopy and eczema in children up to two years of age. The second study will look at whether probiotic bacteria may be useful in treatment of atopic eczema in children as has been suggested by recent European studies.

Dr Kevin Dew, "Nga Morehu: Negotiating cultures" ($355,000 over two years). Maori Health Units and Maori health providers have a different system of values in the delivery of health care than that which operates in the public health system. This project will examine how those health providers negotiate between the two sets of values, and to identify factors that enhance or hinder Maori health development.

Associate Professor Philippa Gander, "Doctor's hours of work: improving patient safety and practitioner health"($295,000 over two years). Long and irregular hours of work that are common in medicine can increase the risk of medical error and degrade the health and well-being of doctors. This study will develop strategies to improve work practises by comparing NZ doctors' work patterns with the Australian Medical Association code of practice.

Dr Peter Crampton, two projects: "Performance indicators for primary care"($128,000 over two years), and "Measurement of community participation in primary health organisations"($109,000 over two years). For the first project, a set of performance indicators will be developed for primary care services. These indicators will allow assessors to then measure the impact of primary care on population health as well as on health inequalities. The second study will develop a tool for assessing the degree of community participation in Primary Health Organisations.

Ms Vera Keefe, "Kimioranga: He kakano" ($100,000 over 18 months). Social and economic circumstances contribute to health. The aim of this study is to explore in detail how kaupapa Maori is affected by social inequalities in health, namely racism.

Dr Mavis Duncanson, "Effective intervention to reduce risk of fire-related injury" ($68,000 over two years). This study will assess key risk factors associated with fire-related deaths or non-fatal injury, including socio-economic determinants of injury, and investigate whether these factors change following a community-based fire injury prevention programme.

Dr Robert Siebers, "Effects of indoor microbial exposure on the development of respiratory diseases in children" ($76,000 over two years). This study will look at whether infants' exposure to microbials (e.g. mould spores) increases their risk of developing allergies or asthma later on in life.


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