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Researchers to build international partnerships

3 July 2006

Researchers to build international partnerships to improve the health of New Zealanders

Investment into international research collaborations is helping New Zealand health research teams to participate in high-end, international research programmes which will benefit the health of all New Zealanders.

The Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) has allocated funding to five health research teams through Objective 1 of the International Investment Opportunities Fund (IIOF).

A variety of health-related research disciplines are represented. The key consideration for the fund was the potential benefit to New Zealand from the proposed international partnership, in terms of specific health outcomes and access to resources (such as funding streams, data, intellectual property, equipment, and expertise). Successful collaborations offer significant leverage to build New Zealand’s health research capacity.

IIOF was established by the Government (Vote RS&T) in 2004/05 and has three separate but interlinked objectives:

1. Building international research collaborations: enables New Zealand researchers to respond to out-of-cycle opportunities to gain access to international research programmes and associated funding streams.

2. Developing international funding partnerships: creates joint funding pools with other countries to facilitate research programmes of joint interest.

3. Bringing world-leading researchers to New Zealand: assists world-leading researchers, working in key areas of strategic interest to New Zealand, to relocate to New Zealand and establish a research team.

The participation of New Zealand research teams in international research programmes will have benefits to New Zealand’s economic, social and environmental development.

IIOF Objective 1 Funding Results

Inferring genetic pathways in melanoma cells
24 months, $567,000
Associate Professor Cristin Print, Dr Edmund Crampin, Professor Peter Hunter
Department of Molecular Medicine & Pathology and The Bioengineering Institute, University of Auckland, (09) 373 7599 ext 85062 Lead International Partner, Dr Christopher Savoie, CEO, GNI Ltd.

Other New Zealand Partners, Professor Bruce Baguley, Dr Rod Dunbar
In collaboration with Japanese pharmaceutical development company GNI Ltd, Associate Professor Cristin Print from the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology at the University of Auckland, will head a team which will use a cutting edge technology known as gene network analysis. This technology will help to understand the molecular signals that underlie the uncontrolled growth of melanoma cells and to identify new drug targets.

This work will develop international links with the rapidly growing Asian biotechnology industry. It will also develop emerging technology in New Zealand while improving melanoma treatment in New Zealand.

Human Neural Progenitor Cell Transplantation Therapy and Huntington’s Disease 24 months, $453,000
Dr Bronwen Connor, Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, FHMS, University of Auckland, (09) 373 7599 ext 83037 Lead International Partner, Professor Martin Pera, Research Professor and Director of Embryonic Stem Cell Research & Monash Institute of Medical Research, Dr Mirella Dottori ,Australian Stem Cell Centre, Monash University Other International Partner, Professor Malcolm Horne, Howard Florey Instuitute, University of Melbourne
University of Auckland researcher, Dr Bronwen Connor, will collaborate with Australian researchers to aid the development of novel therapeutic strategies for Huntington’s disease. The study will assess the potential of using human neural progenitor cells, derived from an embryonic stem cell line, as an alternative cell source for transplantation therapy for treating this disease.

Australian researchers are world-leaders in human stem cell biology and the formation of this exciting new Trans-Tasman alliance will allow New Zealand to invest in this emerging field.

The polypill for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease
12 months, $375,000
Dr Anthony Rodgers, Dr Natasha Rafter, Associate Professor Valery Feigin, Mr Stephen Vander Hoorn, Professor Rod Jackson, Dr Dale Bramley, Dr Sue Crengle,
Clinical Trials Research Unit, University of Auckland, (09) 373 7967 Lead International Partner, Dr Anushka Patel, Associate Professor Bruce Neal, The George Institute for Internetional Health, University of Sydney
Other International Partners, Professor Richard Grimm, Berman Center for Outcomes and Clinical Research, Professor Jim Neaton, Division of Biostatistics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA
The China-Australia Partnership for Health, Peking University, China
In a world first, the Clinical Trials Research Unit at the University of Auckland will conduct an international preparatory trial to assess the safety and tolerability of the polypill among individuals with a moderate to high-risk of cardiovascular disease. The polypill is a new combination cardiovascular medication containing aspirin and agents to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Participants will be recruited from eight countries, including New Zealand to measure the placebo-controlled effects of the polypill on blood pressure levels, cholesterol levels and tolerability.

As well as building research capacity in New Zealand, there are direct health benefits of early access and improved uptake of this potentially highly cost effective treatment, which would be hugely facilitated by New Zealand participation in this trial.

Brain actions of prolactin in the postpartum period
24 Months, $210,000 Associate Professor David Grattan, Dr Ilona Kokay, Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, University of Otago (03) 479 7442
Lead International Partner, Professor Robert Bridges, Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Associate Professor Dave Grattan from the University of Otago heads a New Zealand group which will collaborate with the USA in a study about perinatal mood disorders. By investigating prolactin, an essential hormone for milk production, the team will investigate whether abnormalities in this hormone around the time of birth affect the mother through conditions like post partum anxiety and depression.

The project will bring together two internationally recognised groups with expertise in reproductive neuroscience, with an overall goal of establishing a model to investigate these conditions.

Microbial models of the human L1 retrotransposon
24 Months, $457,000
Associate Professor Russell Poulter, Dr Timothy Goodwin, Professor Warren Tate, Biochemistry,University of Otago, (03) 479 7856
Lead International Partner, Professor Jef Boeke, High Throughput Biology Center, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, United States
Other International Partner, Staff Associate Dr Jeffrey Han, Department of Embryology, Carnegie Institution of Washington, United States
Associate Professor Russell Poulter from the University of Otago will collaborate with researchers from the United States to create and explore the first yeast model of LINE-1 – an abundant retrotransposon, which comprises 17 per cent of the human genome but is incompletely understood. This project builds on the discovery by the New Zealand team of “Zorro” - the first LINE retrotransposon to be described in any yeast.

Due to the limitations of mammalian models used to date, a microbial model to study L1 retrotransposition and gene expression will be a valuable resource for the global medical research community and will contribute to the research profile of New Zealand.

About the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC)

The HRC is the Crown agency responsible for the management of the Government’s investment in public good health research. Ownership of the HRC resides with the Minister of Health, with funding being primarily provided from Vote Research, Science and Technology. A Memorandum of Understanding between the two Ministers sets out this relationship.

Established under the Health Research Council Act 1990, the HRC's statutory functions include:
- advising the Minister and administering funds in relation to national health research policy
- fostering the recruitment, education, training, and retention of those engaged in health research in New Zealand
- initiating and supporting health research
- undertaking consultation to establish priorities in health research
- promoting and disseminating the results of health research to encourage their contribution to health science, policy and delivery
- ensuring the development and application of appropriate assessment standards by committees or subcommittees that assess health research proposals.


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