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Health Research Council grants $40m to Otago researchers

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Climate change and its impact on people’s health and using DNA to help predict who may suffer heart failure are just two of many University of Otago-led research projects being funded this year by the Health Research Council to the tune of more than $40 million.

Associate Professor Simon Hales and his team from the University of Otago, Wellington, will receive $1,190,579 over three years to investigate the relationship between extreme rainfall events and water-borne gastroenteritis infections.

"There have been several severe flood events in recent years, leading to both short-term and long-term impacts. A major outbreak of campylobacter in Havelock North was linked to contamination of a local water supply following heavy rainfall," Associate Professor Hales explains.

"In this study we will identify times, such as following heavy rainfall, and locations, such as communities using smaller untreated ground-water supplies where risk of waterborne enteric disease may be increased."

The researchers plan to define policy-relevant parameters for water regulators, including local climate thresholds for use in early warning systems and national maps of community vulnerability, both currently and under scenarios of future climate change and freshwater policy.

"It is very encouraging that the HRC has recognised the importance of research on the health impacts of climate change," Associate Professor Hales says.

At the University of Otago, Christchurch, Dr Anna Pilbrow and her research team are looking to use an individual’s DNA to help predict which patients develop heart failure after a heart attack, receiving $1,193,680 for their three-year project.

"People who have a heart attack are at much greater risk of developing heart failure, but it’s difficult to predict who might be affected," Dr Pilbrow explains.

"Our study aims to test whether information in a patients’ DNA can help us predict who might develop heart failure after having a heart attack. We’ll be analysing the DNA of a large number of patients and compiling the data into a ‘genetic risk score’. We plan to test the clinical utility of this genetic risk score in patients from New Zealand and overseas."

The University of Otago received its most significant level of funding in recent years from the HRC for research "projects" with $35,077,887 distributed to 30 projects. This is a major increase from the past five years where funding has varied from $15 to $19 million.

In addition, Professor Janet Hoek and her colleagues from the University of Otago, Wellington, received almost $5 million for a five-year "programme" aiming to close smoking disparities, particularly for Māori and Pacific people. In total, the University receives $40 million from the HRC.

University of Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise, Professor Richard Blaikie, says it is significant that the HRC has this year funded so many Otago research projects.

"We are grateful to the HRC for its ongoing support. To see our project funding almost double from last year is testimony to the important health research our academic staff are undertaking.

"It is also exceptionally pleasing to see the HRC provide significant support for emerging research leaders amonst these projects, which bodes well for the future."

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