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Women scoop Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowships

Monday, 12 November 2012
Women scoop Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowships worth a total $1.5m

Wellington’s Dr Bridget Stocker has been awarded $500,000 to investigate the role of “bad” immune cells in cancer – one of three top researchers, all female, to receive the prestigious Sir Charles Hercus Research Fellowship from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC).

The Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowships, worth $500,000 each over four years, are awarded to outstanding emerging health researchers who are committed to a career in health research in New Zealand.

To date, much work in immunology has focused on making “good” immune cells work stronger and faster. However, not all immune cells are good. Dr Stocker, a specialist in chemistry and immunology at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, will use the funds from the fellowship to explore ways to remove “bad” immune cells or convert them back to a good type using two unique classes of “immunomodulators”. This research will help to develop new cancer therapies.

The other two recipients of the Sir Charles Hercus Research Fellowship are Dr Helen Fitzsimons from Massey University and Dr Fiona McBryde from The University of Auckland.

Dr Fitzsimons will research how long-term memories are formed and stored, and how these processes are disrupted in people with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Some 43,000 New Zealanders have dementia, and Alzheimer’s New Zealand project this will to increase to 74,000 by 2026. Dr Fitzsimons is particularly focusing on the role of histone acetylation in memory formation.

Dr McBryde will explore whether decreased blood flow (hypo-perfusion) in the brain is a key factor in the development of abnormally high blood pressure (hypertension). Undiagnosed or unmanaged hypertension leads to stroke, renal failure and coronary heart disease, among others.

The HRC has also awarded $713,273 to Dr Martin Than, an emergency medicine specialist at Christchurch Hospital, and $766,067 to Auckland District Health Board paediatrician, Dr Stuart Dalziel, through its Clinical Practitioner Research Fellowships.

Dr Than will redevelop, validate, test and carry out new diagnostic strategies and blood tests that will allow emergency departments to assess possible heart attack patients faster, helping reduce overcrowding and the number of days patients spend in hospital. Dr Dalziel will use his fellowship to undertake three projects based on paediatric emergency medicine, including a randomised controlled trial of the use of prednisolone for preschool children with recurrent wheeze.

Just under $1.5 million has also been awarded through the HRC’s Clinical Research Training Fellowship. Seven health professionals have received funding, including Angela Brenton-Rule, a clinician and educator at the AUT University’s School of Podiatry, who will assess the relationship between foot deformity and falls in people with rheumatoid arthritis, and Dr Ayesha Verrall from the University of Otago, who will examine what immune mechanisms underlie apparent resistance to tuberculosis in heavily exposed individuals.

The HRC’s Chief Execute, Dr Robin Olds, says he and the assessing committees were very impressed by the quality of applications for this year’s awards.

For the full list of award recipients, go to


Dr Bridget Stocker, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research
Switching off tumour-promoting immune cells to develop novel cancer therapies
4 years, $500,000

Dr Helen Fitzsimons, Massey University, Palmerston North
Investigating the role of histone acetylation in memory formation
4 years, $500,000

Dr Fiona McBryde, The University of Auckland
Brainstem hypo-perfusion as a causative mechanism for neurogenic hypertension
4 years, $500,000

Dr Martin Than, Canterbury District Health Board
Investigation of cardiovascular pathology in the emergency department
5 years, $713,273

Dr Stuart Dalziel, Auckland District Health Board
Paediatric emergency research
5 years, $766,067

Mrs Angela Brenton-Rule, Auckland University of Technology
Foot and ankle characteristics associated with falls in rheumatoid arthritis
3 years, $250,000

Dr Ayesha Verrall, University of Otago, Dunedin
Tuberculosis and innate immunity: understanding early clearance of infection
3 years, $250,000

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