2022 Research Review Editorial
by Professor Rebecca Grainger (Editor)
What a difference a year makes. When writing this report in 2021 our borders were shut to visitors, returning New Zealanders had to secure a place in MIQ, and we were still under the traffic light COVID-19 restrictions. As we emerged from the Delta lockdown the city streets remained quiet and a trip to the South Island found tourist hot spots deserted making for an amazing but slightly strange holiday. Over this unexpected long weekend in September 2022 (to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II) Wellington is buzzing with visitors, few masks are seen, and the strange life that we lived under COVID-19 seems to be fading in my memory. While memories fade, the COVID-19 pandemic will be a historic event of some significance. While looking back many observations will be made and new conclusions come to but the COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed the critical importance of scientific research in protecting human health and well being. This highlights the importance of Research For Life in the Wellington scientific community as a key body in supporting the development of talented health and medical scientists here in the capital—those scientists that will address the many human health challenges in the future.
But before we look to the future, what are my reflections on the role of science during the COVID-19 pandemic? First the development of effective COVID-19 vaccines in record time is one of the miracles of modern science. The first dose of the Pfizer vaccine was administered on 8th December 2020. Since then over 12.7 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to about 68% of the world’s population. As the COVID-19 virus evolves new strains, the vaccines still seem to protect against severe disease and death but not infection, and boosters are required as immunity wanes. Efforts continue internationally in vaccine development with a pan-coronavirus vaccine or vaccines with longer lasting efficacy key targets. We are so fortunate to have talented scientists working on this right here in New Zealand, Wellington: The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research is a key member of the Vaccine Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo, in collaboration with the University of Otago, Victoria University of Wellington – Te Herenga Waka, the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand and many other institutes across the country. We are likely to be heading into a significant and exciting period of improvements in vaccine science, which has such direct and immediate positive benefits for human health.
While biomedical science has played a critical role in the diagnosis, management and prevention of COVID-19, we must also acknowledge other contributors to the COVID-19 response. There were many scientists outside the traditional non-biomedical sciences who had key roles. Epidemiologists, informaticians, and mathematical modellers all played critical roles in providing scientific advice to our Government that contributed to the COVID-19 response. Science is a team sport and we need team players who bring a variety of skills and expertise. The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of understanding what motivates humans to behave in ways that help each other, and the importance of good science communication. We can’t just do the science, we have to communicate the messages to others in a way that supports them to act in positive ways.
In this 2022 issue of the Research For Life research report we provide summaries of the science supported through our grants to Wellington’s talented emerging scientists. The 10 reports cover biomedical and clinical studies across a wide range of areas: infection to vaccination, cancer detection to cancer treatment, and neurodevelopment to neurological injury. While the focus of many is on very fundamental aspects of disease or disease management, this painstaking and detailed work forms the foundation of future innovations that can impact directly on human health. Many of our grants support doctoral students, post-doctoral fellows or early career scientists. These people will be the leading scientists of tomorrow. I am also delighted that RFL has been able to award its first Postdoctoral Fellowship, which you will hear more about at the Annual General Meeting and in the Annual Report. This will provide vital funding to continue career development for Wellington’s finest, and provide a bridge from learning science to leading science.
I would like to thank the members of the Research Advisory Committee who do an outstanding job of reviewing the grant applications to provide advice to the Board on funding recommendations. I also extend my sincere thanks to Kate Ward our secretary who has provided the most excellent administrative support one could wish for. These people make the work of Research For Life a pleasure, as it is already a privilege.
I hope you enjoy reading the reports this year and continue to support Research For Life in its important work of supporting the development of outstanding medical science, and scientists in Wellington.