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New Funding For Medical Research

Media Release
11 September 2003


New Funding For Medical Research

The Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, has received $3.53 million to support seven new studies in the latest Health Research Council (HRC) funding round.

The largest HRC grants of over two million dollars have been awarded to two three year research projects in the Department of Psychological Medicine for depression and manic-depression, conditions which affect the mental health and impair the lives of thousands of New Zealanders.

The first project involves a seven person team led by Professor Peter Joyce from the Department of Psychological Medicine and Dr Martin Kennedy from the Gene Structure and Function Laboratory. This study will examine genes from depressed patients to determine their significance in relation to this condition.

This project will look at the relationship between specific genes, which code for chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain, such as serotonin, and various aspects of depression. “We will look at how these genes influence response to different treatments for depression and the symptoms of a person’s depression, “ says Professor Joyce. “The research will also examine how these genes relate to personality traits.”

The second major HRC grant involves a second team of investigators, also led by Professor Joyce, into bipolar affective disorder (manic depression). While medication is very important in treating this condition, this study will examine the effectiveness of different psychotherapy approaches in patient outcomes.

The study will examine why there is ongoing impairment for so many people with bipolar disorder, which is ranked as the sixth leading cause of disability in the world. Another issue to be studied is the ability of patients to recognise when they are becoming unwell, and how they are able to act at the first signs of relapse.

Professor Brian Darlow from the Department of Paediatrics has received a substantial grant for New Zealand neonatal intensive care units to take part in an international study into whether intravenous immunoglobulin reduces death and disability in new born babies suffering from suspected infection. Each year in Australia and New Zealand 2500 babies develop a bacterial infection after birth, and 600 die.

Dr Margret Vissers, Professor Christine Winterbourn and Dr Mark Hampton from the Free Radical Research Group have been funded to examine the process of programmed cell death or apoptosis and how it is regulated by reactive oxidants and antioxidants such as vitamin C. They will investigate how this may be important in inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

One of the country’s leading suicide experts Dr Annette Beautrais from the Canterbury Suicide Project has received funding for two studies. One looking at the impact on suicide attempts of barriers on Grafton Bridge in Auckland, the other on the effect of suicide on immediate family members.

Associate Professor Tim Wilkinson from Health Care of the Elderly is to carry out research in collaboration with the University of Auckland into exercise programmes for the elderly in residential care in terms of quality of life and disability. The study will also look at whether such programmes reduce or increase the number of falls of old people.

In another collaborative study with the University of Auckland, the Canterbury Respiratory Research Group, directed by Dr Michael Epton, has been funded to examine why some smokers develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, emphysema) and others don’t. Although COPD is the third leading cause of death in N.Z., and affects 20% of smokers, its causes are not completely understood. This study will examine possible genetic links between smoking and a susceptibility to COPD which may eventually assist in the development of diagnostic tests for early prevention.


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