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Canterbury researcher to investigate swallowing disorders

Canterbury researcher returns from Baltimore to investigate swallowing disorders

April 21, 2014

A researcher who is highly trained in dysphagia, or swallowing difficulties, has returned from Baltimore to the University of Canterbury to continue her laboratory investigations into facilitating the recovery of swallowing in New Zealand stroke patients.

Dr Phoebe Macrae spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University looking into issues related to swallowing problems.

She plans to combine the areas of study from her PhD and postdoctoral work and embark on an independent research career in Christchurch.

``I plan to achieve this goal through collaboration with my previous PhD mentor, Canterbury's Dr Maggie-Lee Huckabee. I am currently working to obtain funding applications to support my proposed research in the University of Canterbury Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Laboratory.

``I have applied for a Neurological Foundation of New Zealand Repatriation Fellowship and will submit an application to the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation at the end of this month.

``If these funding applications are successful, they will provide up to two years of salary support and research expenses for me to obtain robust preliminary data to support an application to larger funding sources in 2015-2016, such as the Rutherford Discovery Fellowship,’’ Dr Macrae says.

About 3000 New Zealanders are affected by dysphagia, or swallowing difficulties, from stroke alone each year. Swallowing impairment is the leading cause of aspiration pneumonia, which is the fourth leading cause of death in the elderly. This highlights the need for the development of effective rehabilitative techniques.

``Swallowing impairment is a symptom of many different disorders. It can impact the recovery of patients following events such as traumatic brain injury and stroke, and confound the progression of degenerative disorders such as Huntington's and Parkinson's disease.

``Around 6000 new cases of stroke are documented in New Zealand each year. Up to half of these patients may suffer from pneumonia due to their swallowing impairment. Canterbury District Health Board data suggests that the average cost for a single patient hospitalisation subsequent to stroke in 2011 was $13,067.

``The cost of hospitalisation inflates to $22,319 when aspiration pneumonia complicates the recovery of stroke. Therefore, the need to develop efficacious treatments for swallowing impairment is justified not only for maximising patient welfare, but also for minimising financial burden,’’ Dr Macrae says.


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