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Wellington-based medical researchers have received up to $99,996 in Research For Life’s first funding round for 2022.

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.

This round saw six researchers receive research grants up to the value of $94,336 to undertake innovative medical research and two travel grants, totalling $5,660, to assist local researchers meet the cost of presenting their research findings at medical conferences.

The successful applicants for research grants were:

Molly Dore

University of Otago, Wellington PhD candidate Molly Dore received a Research For Life grant of up to $31,855 to undertake research to improve treatment options for endometrial cancer in Aotearoa. This country has one of the highest rates of endometrial cancer (EC), and rapidly rising in younger women. The Mirena® is a long-acting reversible contraceptive device that has gained traction as a possible alternative treatment option to surgery for women with EC. However, early evidence shows that for 1 of 3 women the Mirena® does not work. This research will investigate the role of cancer stem cells in the mechanism of resistance in women that do not respond to the Mirena® and hopefully develop a clinical test to determine which women will respond to treatment and which won’t. 

Sonja Hummel

PhD candidate Sonja Hummel received a Research For Life grant of up to $19,099 to undertake research to provide novel insights about current treatments for people with heart attacks. Heart attacks are a leading cause of death and disability worldwide and are responsible for around 30% of deaths in the western world. Sonja’s research is investigating how current treatment options for heart attacks are affecting the immune system to better understand how the immune system contributes to the recovery and risks associated with heart attacks.

Her research aims to improve the pathway of care for patients who are living with the consequences of heart attacks. Sonja is a PhD candidate in the Department of Surgery and Anaesthesia at the University of Otago in Wellington.

Anna Tribe and Melanie McConnell

Anna Tribe and Melanie McConnell received a Research For Life grant of up to $12,000 to undertake research to explore the role of a protein called BCL6 in the therapy resistance of the brain cancer glioblastoma. Glioblastoma is an extremely aggressive cancer with no cure. The treatments we have available are not very effective, and research has shown that BCL6 may be involved in helping glioblastoma cells to avoid dying during therapy. Anna’s research investigates what BCL6 does in glioblastoma before and after treatment. Understanding how this protein helps glioblastoma cells to resist therapy may enable the development of new treatments, to target BCL6 and help cancer treatments be more effective against glioblastoma. Anna Tribe is a PhD candidate at Victoria University of Wellington.

Afnan Al Abadey

Afnan Al Abadey received a grant of up to $13,382 to investigate treatments for multiple sclerosis. The prevalence of multiple sclerosis in New Zealand is approximately 1 per 1000 individuals and results in a range of symptoms including fatigue, bladder and bowel dysfunction, visual impairments, and chronic pain. Afnan Al Abadey’s research will focus on understanding how these potential treatments may impact an important cell type in the brain, known as microglia. Afnan Al Abadey is a PhD candidate at Victoria University of Wellington.

Martin Dalefield

Martin Dalefield, M.Phil., received a Research For Life grant of up to $18,000 to conduct research into multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disorder that is the most common cause of non-traumatic neurologic disability in young people. Several studies have found that drugs that target the kappa opioid receptor are beneficial in promoting recovery in preclinical models of multiple sclerosis. However, it is unclear whether these preclinical results will translate into benefits for human patients. Mr Dalefield’s work aims to clarify the specific location of the kappa opioid receptor and how this changes in multiple sclerosis. This research will allow us to better understand how drugs, targeting this receptor, can be used to benefit patients with multiple sclerosis. Mr. Dalefield is a PhD candidate in the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, supervised by Associate Professor Bronwyn Kivell.

The successful applicants for travel grants were:

Emma Symonds

Emma Symonds, a PhD candidate in the Department of Surgery and Anaesthesia at the University of Otago, Wellington, was awarded a travel grant of up to $2,660 to present her research at the International Society for Extracellular Vesicles annual meeting in Lyon, France this year. Emma’s research lies in improving autologous fat grafting as a breast reconstruction option for women that have had a mastectomy as part of their breast cancer treatment. She intends to investigate the interaction between cell types in both the donor and breast tissue to improve variable graft retention rates currently associated with autologous fat grafting.

Sarah Messenger

Sarah Messenger, a PhD candidate at Victoria University of Wellington, was awarded a travel grant of up to $3,000 to attend the 2022 Applied Molecular Microbiology Summer School in Dubrovnik, Croatia, to learn about natural products and present her research.

Sarah’s research interests lie in the engineering of natural product gene clusters to produce medically significant compounds that could be used as anti-cancer or antibiotic drugs. She intends to revolutionise current methods of natural product engineering to generate novel and exciting drug leads to combat the rising level of antimicrobial resistance and provide new avenues for treating cancer.

Professor Rebecca Grainger, Chair of Research For Life’s Research Advisory Committee, said: “We congratulate the successful applicants from this funding round. The research they are undertaking is innovative, well-conceived and vital to achieving continuing improvements in health outcomes in our communities, and it also has international impact.”

The closing date for the next research and travel grant round is Thursday, 25 August 2022. 


Research For Life awards $100,000 to Wellington Medical Researchers

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