Research For Life awards $164,683 to Wellington Medical Researchers
Wellington-based medical researchers have received up to $164,683 in Research For Life’s second funding round for 2022. In the earlier funding round in April, Research For Life approved grants totalling $100,000.
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 ten researchers receive research grants up to the value of $147,183 to undertake innovative medical research and seven travel grants, totalling $17,500, to assist local researchers meet the cost of presenting their research findings at medical conferences. The successful applicants for research grants were:
Dr Alice Rogan
Dr Alice Rogan received a Research For Life grant of up to $13,102 to conduct research investigating the use of blood tests to help diagnose traumatic brain injuries (TBI). TBI are a leading cause of death and disability in New Zealand and common emergency department presentation. TBI incorporates mild (concussion) to severe injuries (brain bleeding or swelling). Doctors must decide who is at risk of more severe injuries and warrant a head CT. This can be difficult, particularly in people with severe concussion or intoxication. This project proposes that Dr Rogan’s research will explore whether blood tests can be used as a screening tool to exclude more severe injuries and support doctor’s decision-making. This could improve patient care by reducing CT head wait times and enable earlier ED discharge for those without a severe injury. Dr Rogan is an Emergency Medicine Research Fellow within the Department of Surgery at the University of Otago, Wellington and an Emergency Medicine Registrar at Wellington Hospital.
Elysha-Rose Grant received a Research For Life grant of up to $12,970 to undertake research to help discover new compounds that alter the activity of macrophages. Macrophages are immune cells that have both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory functions and can cause harm in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Finding new compounds that can alter the function of specific aspects of the immune system, rather than causing widespread suppression, can be potential candidates for treatment of certain diseases. Isolated from marine sponges, Nelliellosides 11B and 13A have shown promising activity alteration in splenocytes and macrophages, with particularly exciting activity induced by (−)-TAN-2483B, a fungal metabolite that increases anti-inflammatory properties of macrophages. Elysha’s research will explore the mechanisms by which these compounds generate their unique effects. Elysha-Rose Grant is a PhD candidate under the supervision of Prof. Anne La Flamme at the School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington.
Dr Georgia Lenihan-Geels
Dr Georgia Lenihan-Geels received a Research For Life grant of up $21,921 to undertake research to improve our understanding of immune cell metabolism in progressive multiple sclerosis patients. Aotearoa has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis worldwide and there is a lack of effective treatment options for those with progressive forms of multiple sclerosis. Recent findings have shown that patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis have higher levels of activated immune cells in the blood. Dr Lenihan-Geels’ research aims to better understand the influence of these cells on MS disease outcomes, such as fatigue and cognition. Dr Lenihan-Geels is a postdoctoral researcher at Victoria University of Wellington - Te Herenga Waka.
Hannah van der Woude
Hannah van der Woude, a PhD student at the University of Otago, Wellington, received a Research For Life grant of up to $10,000 to undertake research investigating the role of immune cells in endometrial (uterine) cancer using novel tissue culture methods. Endometrial cancer incidence is rising in Aotearoa, particularly in our pre-menopausal population, and there is a strong link between endometrial cancer and the obesity epidemic. Despite this, there are limited treatment options available for those who wish to avoid surgery, either to preserve their fertility or because a high BMI carries with it increased surgical risk. Moreover, conservative treatment for endometrial cancer is severely under-researched and response rates are highly variable. Hannah is exploring how conservative endometrial cancer treatment influences immune cell response. This will shed light on how to overcome resistance by effectively harnessing the natural cancer-killing properties of the immune system and provide a foundation for personalising conservative treatment options.
Dr Isabelle Stewart
Dr Isabelle Stewart received a Research For Life grant of up to $27,255 to undertake research to understand how COVID-19 vaccines can better protect us against future variants of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Dr Stewart’s research explores how antibodies that can target future SARS-CoV-2 variants develop after immunisation, and how to encourage the development of these cross-protective antibodies. This project involves investigation of new protein-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, which have been designed to induce cross-protective antibodies. Dr Stewart is a postdoctoral fellow at Victoria University of Wellington, and has worked with Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo to help New Zealand make its own vaccine against COVID-19.
Miss Annabelle Sik received a Research For Life grant of up to $4,284 to undertake research to improve the way in which doctors assess for concussion. Concussion or mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI) occur in over 30,000 New Zealanders per year; however, current head injury assessment methods are not well suited for the emergency department setting. There has been increasing research into the use of blood tests for brain injuries. Annabelle Sik’s research is looking at whether a blood test for the protein S100B, which has been shown to be released by the brain when injured, can help determine whether a patient has concussion or not. This will mean patients can receive appropriate care faster. Annabelle Sik is a medical student and a PhD candidate at the University of Otago, Wellington.
Dr Aaron Stevens
Dr Aaron Stevens, a senior lecturer in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington, received a Research For Life grant of up to $20,125 to investigate the chemical signatures on genomic DNA. These are important regulators of gene activity and act at the interface between the environment and gene regulation. The methylation of cytosine alters DNA structure and gene expression and impacts all aspects of cell function. Understanding how DNA methylation patterns are regulated by environmental stimuli is a central question for managing health and disease and is a major contemporary challenge in human genetics. Dr Stevens’ team has recently demonstrated that oxidants generated by activated white blood cells can change the pattern of methylation at specific regions of human genomic DNA. They hypothesize this is a key driver in the development and progression of inflammation-associated cancer. In this project they aim to understand the molecular consequences of this interaction, which will aid in the development of biomarkers for early diagnosis.
Cerys Blackshaw received a Research For Life grant of up to $15,295 to undertake research to help women with cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD is the leading cause of mortality for women worldwide, but research shows that there are inequalities of care between women and men. International reviews have shown that females have worse health outcomes due to a lack of comparable care between males and females. In a New Zealand context, we have found that females are experiencing less guideline-based interventions but have seen no effect on health outcomes. Cerys’ research is investigating if these differences are due to systemic bias in the hospital system, or due to a physical difference in the way the disease impacts women compared to men. Cerys is a PhD student at Otago University, working in the Surgery and Anaesthesia Department at Wellington Regional Hospital.
PhD student Ceridwyn Jones received a Research For Life grant of up to $8,148 to interrogate the inflammatory process that occurs after a heart attack. Heart attacks are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide and in New Zealand, and the role of inflammation is critical in recovery after a heart attack. Ceridwyn’s research involves developing a methodology to investigate a component of the immune system and its role in the recovery and risks associated with heart attacks. Her research aims to identify a novel avenue for intervention, to improve the outcomes of heart attack patients. Ceridwyn is a PhD student in the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington – Te Herenga Waka.
Madeline Griffiths received a Research For Life grant of up to $14,083 to undertake research to help multiple sclerosis patients. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neuroinflammatory that may cause vison issues, pain, numbness, spasms, balance problems, sexual dysfunction, and incontinence. With 1 in 1,000 kiwis affected by this disease, there is desperate need for new therapies. Madeline’s research is exploring new treatment options to aid repair in the central nervous system following a disease relapse. Madeline Griffiths is a PhD Student in the Cell and Immunobiology research group at Victoria University of Wellington – Te Herenga Waka, supervised by Prof. Anne La Flamme.
The successful applicants for travel grants were:
Kaitlin Buick, a PhD student at Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington, and the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, received a travel grant of up to $1,750 to present her research at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology (ASI) in Melbourne this year. Her PhD research involves understanding how the immune system drives a protective immune response following mRNA vaccination and how to optimize this to create improved vaccines.
Lucy Hughes, a PhD student at the Ferrier Research Institute (Victoria University of Wellington – Te Herenga Waka) received a travel grant of up to $3,600 which will allow her to present her research at the European Carbohydrate Symposium in Paris. Lucy’s PhD work is focused on the synthesis of carbohydrate-based drugs to treat a rare and fatal neurodegenerative disease called Krabbe Disease. Currently there is no treatment for this disease that causes death within the first few years of life. Lucy hopes that her PhD work will contribute to a life-saving treatment for this disease.
Molly Dore, a PhD student at the Department of Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Women’s Health at the University of Otago, Wellington received a travel grant of up to $3,900 to present her research at the British Gynaecological Cancer Society annual scientific meeting in May next year. Molly’s research aims to improve the current treatment options for Endometrial Cancer by investigating on a molecular level whether we can determine which women will benefit most from treatment with Mirena® or who will still need surgery as the first line of care.
Emily Paterson, a PhD student in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Otago, Wellington, received a travel grant of up to $3,800 to present her research findings at the World Congress on Endometriosis in Edinburgh in May 2023. Emily’s research focuses on identifying molecular biomarkers that could be used to diagnose endometriosis. She hopes to provide non-invasive means of endometriosis diagnosis using vaginal self-swabs, to enable wider access and prevent people having unnecessary surgery.
Katharina Robichon, a postdoctoral fellow in the Group of Immunology and Cell Biology at Victoria University – Te Herenga Waka, received a travel grant of up to $1,100 to attend the 50th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Immunology 2022 (ASI), Melbourne, in December 2022, with presentation of her current research in either a poster form or talk.
Mary Buchanan, a PhD student at the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Otago, Wellington, received a travel grant of up to $1,400 to present her research findings at the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) conference in Queenstown this year. In her research, Mary works with the Christchurch Health and Development Study to investigate resilience factors following exposure to childhood adversity. This research is key to identifying potential areas for intervention for the long-term burden of childhood adversity.
The closing date for the next round of Research For Life research grant applications, including travel grant applications is Thursday 9 March 2023.