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HRC publication:20years of supporting innovative NZ research

5 September 2011

Health Research Council publication showcases 20 years of supporting innovative research in New Zealand

The Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) this year celebrates 20 years of supporting innovative health research in New Zealand by publishing highlights of some of the groundbreaking research that has benefited from HRC funding.

“We seek to support the people and the research that is most likely to make a difference,” says HRC Chief Executive, Dr Robin Olds.

“Through supporting health research that focuses on keeping New Zealand’s people healthy, independent and productive, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the healthcare system, and creating value from new knowledge and innovations, the HRC contributes to health and economic gains for the country,” he says.

The HRC’s publication, Celebrating 20 Years of Health Research in New Zealand, contains a foreword by the Minister of Health, Hon Tony Ryall, and the Minister of Science and Innovation, Hon Dr Wayne Mapp.

The two Ministers say that they are “particularly impressed by the outcomes of HRC-supported research that contribute significantly to enabling New Zealanders to lead more fulfilling and productive lives.”

Some of the more significant health research highlights from the past 20 years include:

Longitudinal studies at the University of Otago in Christchurch and Dunedin, which follow cohorts of children from birth (with exceptional retention rates) have provided a wealth of information on health and social problems, including valuable evidence to inform the recent report: “Improving the Transition: Reducing Social and Psychological Morbidity During Adolescence” released by Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

Professor Simon Malpas and his research team from The University of Auckland have developed and commercialised a wireless heart pump. Heart pumps are implanted in patients to keep them alive while they wait for a heart transplant, but previous models required a bulky wire power cable to pass through a patient’s skin, which could break or become infected, sometimes leading to death. The team’s ‘break through’ product has the ability to transfer power to heart pumps without wires, and they are now looking to adapt the wireless technology to a range of other implantable clinical devices.

The work of the Bone Research Group at The University of Auckland is an excellent example of the translation of fundamental biomedical research to the clinical – where the outcomes actively improve people’s lives. The group’s discoveries in basic bone biology and subsequent evidence provided through clinical trials have had a major impact on treatment of bone diseases such as Paget’s disease, osteoporosis, and osteopenia. The team continues to work with large pharmaceutical companies who realise the potential of the research and are keen to build on therapeutic opportunities.

Professor Peter Hunter and his multi-disciplinary team have developed a cutting-edge virtual heart, which can be programmed to do everything that a real heart will do naturally in health or disease, or in response to treatment. The model has enormous cost and safety benefits, as it can be used to predict how a patient will respond to a particular treatment, for surgical planning, diagnostic tests, or to test the safety and efficacy of new experimental drugs. Professor Hunter’s team and the virtual heart are part of a larger, international research effort called ‘The Physiome Project’, with the ultimate aim to develop a virtual human body.

Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman from the University of Otago, Wellington, has undertaken extensive research which has demonstrated the health impacts of poorly insulated houses, and influenced Government policy, resulting in practical assistance which has achieved real improvement of people’s health.

Associate Professor Parry Guilford, from the University of Otago, Dunedin, worked with an extended Māori family with a high incidence of a certain stomach cancer to identify the gene implicated in the cancer and develop genetic screening tests for early detection.

Professor Rod Jackson and team at The University of Auckland developed ‘PREDICT’ – software for the risk assessment and management of cardiovascular disease, now used by about 80 per cent of Auckland and Northland PHOs.

Researchers at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research have developed, manufactured and are now testing in humans a novel cancer therapy, which exploits the properties of the immune system to target and kill cancer cells, with high specificity and minimal side-effects.

Professors Neil Pearce and Jeroen Douwes from Massey University, Palmerston North, have shed light on occupational risks that impact on thousands of New Zealanders, including truck drivers, agricultural workers, meat workers, cleaners, machinists, painters, sales assistants, and hairdressers.

Copies of the HRC’s new publication, Celebrating 20 Years of Health Research in New Zealand, are available at no charge from the HRC. Please email:, if you would like to request a copy.

About the Health Research Council of New Zealand
The HRC is the principal Crown agency responsible for the management of the Government’s investment in public good health research in New Zealand. Our mission is 'benefiting New Zealand through health research', with a vision of improved health and quality of life for all. To find out more about the HRC go to


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