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Cardiovascular Researcher Wins Fellowship To UK

Dr Gary Whitlock’s award of the first Girdlers’ New Zealand Health Research Council Fellowship is likely to benefit New Zealanders at risk of heart disease after his term at the University of Oxford.

Dr Whitlock believes his work at Oxford’s Green College on the contribution of high blood pressure and cholesterol levels to heart disease in different populations will enable stronger treatment guidelines for New Zealanders at risk of heart disease.

The prestigious two-year postdoctoral fellowship is a collaboration between the London-based Girdlers’ Company, established in the fourteenth century by a guild of craftsmen who made belts with elaborate metalwork, and the HRC. The company has had a relationship with New Zealand since the 1930s, and the fellowship is worth a yearly total of $NZ120,000. Communication between the HRC, the company and Green College was facilitated by the British Council.

Dr Whitlock will work with the Prospective Studies Collaboration, an overview co-ordinated at the University of Oxford involving more than 60 research projects on heart disease and stroke risks with large groups of participants over long periods of time. He will be able to compare results from the 1.4 million people in these studies with results from the Asia Pacific Cohort Studies Collaboration (1 million people).

This second collaboration is partly funded by the HRC, and includes two New Zealand projects - the Fletcher Challenge-University of Auckland Heart and Health Study (10,529 participants) and the New Zealand Blood Donors’ Health Study (20,000 participants). This type of study can identify causes of health problems very reliably because of the number of participants and the years of follow-up, says Dr Whitlock.

He is completing his PhD on the causes of motor vehicle-related injury for people in the Fletcher Challenge project at the Clinical Trials Research Unit in the University of Auckland. He will start the fellowship at Green College in the new year.

He intends to return to New Zealand to work in the unit on the two New Zealand projects. The study of blood donors is investigating possible causes of injury, and is probably the largest such study in the world, says Dr Whitlock. "This study will provide a great opportunity to investigate possible causes of injury. Our current knowledge of the causes of injury is probably at the same level that our knowledge of the causes of heart disease was 40 years ago."

The blood donor project started last year and will finish recruiting participants in October. Dr Whitlock believes these studies will still be producing useful and precise risk factor information in another 20 years.


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