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Innovative Otago health research gains funding

Innovative Otago health research gains funding

Four University of Otago researchers have gained a total of around $550,000 to support their innovative studies in the latest funding announcement by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC).

Two of the three 2014 HRC Explorer Grants have been awarded to Professor Greg Cook (Microbiology & Immunology) and Associate Professor John Reynolds (Anatomy) for projects aiming to overcome antibiotic resistance and revolutionise treatment of Parkinson’s disease, respectively.

Explorer grants are intended to advance ideas considered to be transformative, innovative, exploratory or unconventional, and have potential for major impact.

Professor Julian Crane (Medicine, Wellington) and Associate Professor Bob Hancox (Preventive and Social Medicine) gained HRC Feasibility Studies Awards to glean critical practical information needed for their investigations to progress towards fundable projects.

Professor Crane is studying the potential of a seaweed extract called Carrageenan to be topically used in the nose to prevent the common cold, while Associate Professor Hancox is focusing on determining whether beta-blockers may actually be a safe and effective treatment for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Professor Cook’s Explorer grant will support him to develop novel antibiotics that aim to transform the way we treat bacterial infections and combat multi-drug-resistant bacteria.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released its first global report on antibiotic resistance, revealing it as a serious, worldwide threat to public health.

In contrast to current antibiotic targets such as the cell wall, and protein and DNA synthesis, Professor Cook’s team have developed new antibiotics that target the part of all living cells that produce energy. These new antibiotics or ‘metabiotics’, so-called because they target a metabolic process, will help the medical community keep pace with the growing problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Professor John Reynolds will use his Explorer Grant to demonstrate the effectiveness of a new drug delivery system that he and his team have designed for restoring brain function in patients with neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

The system mimics normal neuro-chemical signalling in the brain. The researchers aim to reinstate the missing dopamine signal in Parkinson’s disease (PD) by activating the release of dopamine-like drugs from biological carriers in targeted brain areas at natural timing. They aim to restore movement in a PD model without the debilitating side effects associated with current dopamine-replacement therapies.


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