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Celebrating Excellence in Health Research

Hon Annette King Speech

Health Research Council Showcase:
Celebrating Excellence in Health Research

Welcome to everyone gathered here tonight to celebrate just some of the achievements of New Zealand's health researchers.

It's a pleasure to host this event in association with the Health Research Council. We are indeed fortunate that so many renowned health scientists choose to live and work in this country because society really does benefit from their endeavours.

Tonight I can only talk about a few specific examples of world-class research, but it is also important to recognise the team within the Health Research Council, which provides our health researchers with energetic and responsive support.

The HRC has, in recent years, been developing programmes such as the partnership programme which brings together funding from different sources to support research-based evidence in developing policy, practice and services.

The partnership programme has supported Wellington School of Medicine, Associate Professor Phillipa Howden-Chapman and her team, to develop an innovative research programme to bring healthier housing to New Zealanders.

They are working with individual families and communities to improve housing conditions and, in turn, the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.

The research team offers free housing insulation and draught-proofing to families who could not otherwise afford it, and has measured the impact of this on their housing conditions and health through the winter.

Preliminary findings show this project has been effective in reducing time off work and children's absences from school.

Another exciting aspect of the programme is the partnership with the Tokelauan community to build two houses for extended family living. The project takes into consideration the cultural requirements of the Tokelau people, and aims to address the serious issue of overcrowding and its effect on the transmission of communicable diseases, such as meningitis.

The HRC also invests in world-class research to support our health priorities, such as reducing the incidence and impact of cancer. The New Zealand-based research team, led by Professors Bill Wilson and Bill Denny, is part of a consortium leading the world in cancer drug development.

At the moment the group is working on drugs that act like 'smart bombs,' targeting tumour cells and sparing healthy tissues. These drugs could revolutionise cancer treatment by allowing much higher doses of toxic drugs to be given, without the distressing side-effects that so often accompany cancer treatment.

It is also envisaged the drugs will be effective against cancers that are currently very difficult to successfully treat, and that offers new hope to many cancer sufferers.

Professor Richard Faull and his team of neuroscientists at the University of Auckland have devoted decades to the study of severe neurological disorders such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Huntingdon's disease.

This team recently made the extraordinary discovery that the adult brain can regenerate itself. Through gaining a better understanding of this process, scientists can work towards the development of treatments to hasten and enhance regeneration, which for the first time provides sufferers of these devastating disorders with the potential for recovery.

The HRC has also provided scholarship funding for 42 Maori postdoctoral students over the past 10 years.

More research is also being done, such as the Te Pumana Hauora programme. This spans the life-course of Maori and includes research that focuses on mental health, the health of children and youth, and older Maori. The development of tools to measure child health from a Maori perspective, and a questionnaire that will allow children to assess their own health across a number of areas, is a first in New Zealand.

The focus, however, has not only been on children. Oranga Kaumatua builds on research documenting health and well-being of kaumatua and will explore in greater depth their identity, health, well-being and material circumstances and their expectations of health services.

The study will include traditional kaumatua as well as mainstream older Maori, and will offer insights into how cultural and socio-economic circumstances influence health.

Thank you again for the opportunity to host the Celebrating Excellence in Health Research showcase. I'm sure you are just as interested as me in now seeing snapshots of the work of three of our talented researchers.


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