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Research For Life awards over $61,000 to Medical Researchers

Research For Life awards over $61,000 to Medical Researchers

Eleven Wellington-based medical researchers received grants in the first funding round of the year from the Research For Life, formerly known as the Wellington Medical Research Foundation. Five Research Grant applicants received a total of $47,095 to undertake innovative medical research and a further six Travel Grants totalling $14,000 were approved to assist local researchers meet the cost of presenting their research findings at international conferences.

Research For Life funds innovative quality research undertaken by researchers in the early stages of their careers who, through their work, will advance the quality of healthcare in the Wellington region and beyond.

The successful applicants for Research Grants were:

Dr Kirsty Danielson received a $16,000 Research For Life grant to investigate early biomarkers for colorectal cancer. New Zealand has the highest rate of colorectal cancer in the world and early detection is key for effective treatment and recovery. Dr Danielson’s research will explore the utility of small RNA species found in the blood as early markers of the presence of colorectal cancer. Dr Danielson is a Lecturer in the Department of Surgery & Anaesthesia at the University of Otago, Wellington.

Professor Dawn Elder received a $4,289 Research For Life grant to undertake research related to the assessment of breathing stability in preterm infants ready for discharge. New generation pulse oximetry will be used as a non-invasive measure of brief drops in oxygen levels in the baby while they are sleeping overnight. Healthy term babies will also be tested. Professor Elder’s research is assessing how we can determine, using this newer technology, what is a normal breathing pattern for preterm infants when they are ready to go home and at what age their breathing pattern becomes the same as babies born at term. Professor Elder is the Head of the Department of Paediatrics & Child Health at the University of Otago, Wellington, and a Paediatric Sleep Physician at WellSleep, University of Otago Wellington and at Capital and Coast District Health Board.

Dr. Bronwyn Kivell received a $13,725 Research For Life Grant to undertake research into developing a new class of drug to treat neuropathic pain. It is estimated that around 4% of the population suffers from neuropathic pain, a chronic pain condition that can result from physical trauma or diseases such as diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, shingles and stroke. Current pain medications are ineffective when administered long-term and can have serious side-effects including itch, constipation, decreased respiration and addiction. The goal of this project is to develop effective medications to treat chronic pain with fewer side-effects. Dr. Kivell is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences and Centre for Biodiscovery at Victoria University of Wellington.

Varun Venkatesh received a $6,000 Research For Life grant to undertake research to investigate the mechanisms of glioblastoma growth. Glioblastoma is a highly debilitating brain cancer with a 12–14-month survival time. Varun’s research is exploring a peptide signalling system that has recently been shown to be an important factor in other cancers but has not been investigated in depth in glioblastoma. Varun hopes to shed some light on the potential roles of this system within the cancer. Varun is a PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Biological Sciences department in the lab of Dr Darren Day.

Dr Ayesha Verrall received a $6,923 Research For Life grant to purchase a cell counter. Dr Verrall will use the cell counter in experiments to understand immunity to Tuberculosis. This builds on a large study Dr Verrall performed with collaborators at Universitas Padjadjaran, Indonesia which showed about a quarter of people who live with a Tuberculosis patient remain uninfected, and are probably immune to Tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is the world’s most deadly infection, killing over 1.5 million people each year. It is hoped that understanding how these people are immune would lead to new Tuberculosis treatments or vaccines. Dr Verrall is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago Wellington and a consultant infectious diseases physician at Capital and Coast District Health Board.

Travel Grants were awarded in this round to the following:

Jodie Chandler, a Research Officer at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, received a travel grant of $3,000 to present her research findings at the Hydra Conference on Molecular and Cellular Biology of Helminth Parasites in Greece this year. Jodie’s research investigates the evolution of parasitic worms from their non-parasitic ancestors. She is primarily interested in hookworm - a species that infects over 700 million people worldwide and causes severe anaemia and cognitive stunting. Her intention is to improve our knowledge of hookworm genetics, which would provide a platform to develop effective vaccines against human hookworm.

Dr Katherine Robins, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, received a $2,000 travel grant to present her research findings at the Enzyme Engineering XXIV conference in France later this year. Katherine’s research interest lies in developing improved DNA ligase enzymes through directed evolution. These improved ligase enzymes can be used to increase the efficiency of next generation sequencing technologies, which have a wide range of medical applications both in research and in the clinic.

Kelsi Hall, a PhD student at Department of Biological Sciences at the Victoria University of Wellington, received a travel grant of $2,000 to present her research findings at the Enzyme Engineering biennial research meeting in Toulouse this year. Kelsi’s research involves using directed evolution to evolve bacterial nitroreductases to activate specific prodrugs. The aim of this research is to use these nitroreductases as a tool for targeted cell ablation in zebrafish to create disease models.

Ross van de Wetering, a 2nd year PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington, received a travel grant of $3000 to present his research at the International Drug Abuse Research Society meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia this year. He is developing a novel analytical procedure to profile the numerous neurochemical changes that occur in the brain with repeated exposure to drugs of abuse. The aim of his research is to identify novel or unanticipated neurochemical systems that are involved in the development of drug addiction, which would provide new research avenues and novel targets for pharmacotherapy.

Shaystah Dean, a PhD candidate from the Suicide and Mental Health Research Group and Department of Psychological Medicine at the Wellington School of Medicine, received a travel grant of $2,000 to present her research findings at the International Conference on Motivational Interviewing in Philadelphia this year. She recently published results from a randomised clinical trial supporting the use of motivational interviewing for engaging adolescents in mental health treatment. She has an interest in adolescent mental health, and bridging the gap between research and clinical practice.

Sarah Lillas, Masters Student at Rehabilitation Teaching & Research Unit (RTRU), School of Medicine, University of Otago, received a travel grant of $2,000 to present her research findings at Australasian Society for the Study of Brain Impairment conference this year. Sarah’s research interest is regarding how people manage their fatigue after sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI). In particular, how people manage their fatigue at work to enable them to participate in paid employment. The area of fatigue management after TBI has limited quality research on it yet, fatigue has a substantial impact on peoples return to work.

Last year, Research For Life approved 12 research grants and nine travel grants constituting a total of $359,574 available to researchers.

Research for Life president Prof. John Nacey said, “Research for Life congratulates the successful applicants of this round of funding. The research they are undertaking is innovative, well-conceived and vital to achieving continuing improvements in health outcomes in the community.

The closing date for the next round of Research for Life grant applications - including travel grant applications – is Tuesday, 12 September 2017.


About Research For Life

Research For Life is the public face of the Wellington Medical Research Foundation.

Our Mission

Supporting innovative quality research with a focus on funding those researchers in the early stages of their careers, who – through their work – will advance the quality of healthcare in the Wellington region and beyond.

Role of the Foundation

Research For Life (Wellington Medical Research Foundation) is dedicated to supporting and encouraging young, talented people to engage in medical and biomedical research.

The Foundation considers appropriate applications from all individuals and research groups in the Wellington region. We currently lend our support, in particular, to the School of Medicine, Wellington Hospital, Victoria University of Wellington and the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.

The need for medical research

Major discoveries in medicine have been made and continue to be made through fundamental and applied research. By funding such research, we aim to be at the forefront of medical knowledge and technical ability.

Achievements of the Foundation

The Foundation has funded work in many areas, including research into the basic understanding of cancer, kidney disease and conditions of particular concern in the Wellington region, such as asthma.

The Wellington Medical Research Foundation is a registered charity, registration number: CC10659

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