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Medical Researchers receive further funding from Research for Life

MEDIA RELEASE: 30 May 2016

Ten Wellington-based medical researchers have received grants in the first funding round of the year from the Wellington Medical Research Foundation, now known as Research for Life. Five Research Grant applicants received a total of $67,325 to undertake innovative medical research and a further five Travel Grants totaling $9,700 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 Max Berry received a $10,000 Research for Life grant to undertake research to help preterm babies. Preterm birth affects one in 12 New Zealand children and carries a significant risk of later neuro-developmental and psychiatric dysfunction. Dr Berry’s research is exploring new treatment options to prevent the late neurological and metabolic complications of preterm birth. Dr Berry is deputy director of the Centre for Translational Physiology at the University of Otago, Wellington, and a consultant neonatologist at Capital and Coast District Health Board.

Prof. Anne La Flamme received $23,630 to investigate the effect of clozapine and risperidone on the immune profile of people with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. This research is part of a larger clinical trial to evaluate the suitability of clozapine and risperidone in the management of with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. The Foundation’s Research Advisory Committee believe this research is important as effective treatment for progressive multiple sclerosis has proved elusive. Prof La Flamme is a scientist at the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University and heads the Multiple Sclerosis Research Programme at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.

Dr Donia Macartney-Coxson was awarded $17,839 towards research into the treatment of type II diabetes. The New Zealand health system is significantly impacted by diabetes with projected costs to our economy of around $1B by 2021. Type II diabetes is strongly associated with obesity but is also a major public health problem being associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Current interventions are sub optimal largely because of inadequate understanding of the fundamental cause of this condition. This research focuses on a patient group who are at high risk of type II diabetes and the aim is to get a better understanding of the role particular molecules play in this disease process.

Dr Macartney-Coxson is a senior scientist who leads the biomarkers team at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR).

Dr Andrew Munkacsi received $10,856 toward research into Niemann-Pick disease. This is a disease affecting children for which there is no effective therapy making this disease invariably fatal. Research for Life have previously supported Dr Munkacsi’s work that has led to important discoveries about genetic modifiers of this disease. Although Niemann-Pick disease is rare, the metabolic processes in this disorder form a critical component of the control of cellular cholesterol in all people. It is therefore hoped that the studies will shed new light on the fundamental processes of lipid metabolism in normal development.

Dr Munkacsi is a senior lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington.

Dr Amber Parry Strong was granted $5,000 to research the relationship between protein, insulin and carbohydrate requirements in people with type I diabetes. While type I diabetes is less common than Type II around 15,000 New Zealanders have this disorder, some 11,000 of those being adults. Type I diabetes is generally diagnosed in childhood meaning patients live with the condition for longer than those with type II. Dr Parry Strong will be assessing the impact of a low carbohydrate diet in the treatment of type I diabetes and is a diabetes research fellow working at the diabetes research group at Capital and Coast Health

Travel Grants were awarded in this round to the following:

Dr David Eccles received a $2,000 Research for Life grant to present an overview of his technology development work on a new type of electronic DNA sequencer at the 2016 London Calling Conference. Dr Eccles is a bioinformatician working at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research. Dr Eccles teaches computers how to understand scientists, helping to make scientific research faster, cheaper and better. Part of his work involves investigating new technologies that may be of use to researchers, including this sequencer: the Oxford Nanopore MinION.

Mona Mokhtari was granted $2,000 to present her research at the International conference on yeast genetics in Florida in July. Mona is a third-year PhD student at Victoria University who is collaborating with scientists at Callaghan Innovation to investigate the bioactivity of novel compounds derived from the peels of feijoa fruit. This fruit has a large number of bioactive compounds with anti-fungal, anti-cancer, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory actions.

Emma Petley received $2,000 to present the findings of her research at the International Congress of Immunology conference in Melbourne in August this year. Emma is a Masters student working with the Vaccine Research Group at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and is undertaking a study on the development of novel vaccines to treat cancer.

Kendall Stevenson, a PhD student at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Wellington School of Medicine, received a travel grant of $2,500 to present her research findings at AcademyHealth's annual research meeting in Boston this year. Kendall’s research interest lies in indigenous maternal and infant health with a particular focus on Maori. Her intention is to reduce disparities between Maori and non-Maori and to reduce the number of poor health outcomes currently associated with Maori around childbirth.

Pirooz Zareie, a PhD student working with the Multiple Sclerosis research group at Victoria University, received $1,200 to attend the International Congress of immunology in Melbourne this year. Pirooz has been undertaking research into the impact of the drug Clozapine on autoimmune encephalomyelitis with the hope of applying the discoveries to the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Last year, the Foundation made 19 research grants and 11 travel grants worth $202,000 in total.

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 Wednesday, 14 September 2016.

Medical Researchers receive further funding from Research for Life

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