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Record $8.2m for NZ's emerging health researchers

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) has today announced a record total of $8.2 million in awards to support the careers of the next generation of health research leaders.

Seventy-three career development awards have been granted in the HRC’s 2015 funding round. Included in these awards are 10 clinical research training fellowships, up from six last year, and five prestigious Sir Charles Hercus health research fellowships valued at up to $500,000 each.

HRC Chief Executive Professor Kathryn McPherson says the HRC Board was extremely impressed with the quality of applications this year.

"We’re delighted to be able to fund a significantly greater number of career development awards than in previous years, including $1.8 million for our Māori health research workforce and $1.5 million for up-in-coming Pacific health researchers. Our previous highest total value for these awards over the past 10 years was $7.4 million in 2011, which also happens to be the only other year that we’ve supported five Hercus fellows," says Professor McPherson.

"Health research is one of the strongest fields of knowledge generation and translation that we have here in New Zealand, and the HRC is proud to support that excellence through these highly competitive awards."

Two of this year’s five successful Sir Charles Hercus fellowship recipients are undertaking cutting-edge postdoctoral brain research.

Dr Joanne Davidson from the University of Auckland has been awarded $500,000 to help extend the window of opportunity for saving babies’ brains following oxygen deprivation at birth. Her research supervisor is Professor Alistair Gunn, a world renowned expert in perinatal brain injury, whose HRC-funded work in the development of brain cooling for babies with loss of oxygen supply to the brain has revolutionised the care of these infants.

Loss of oxygen supply to the brain occurs in about two out of every 1000 live births and can result in brain damage and lifelong disability, including cerebral palsy. Treatment options for these babies are extremely limited and only partially effective. Dr Davidson has previously shown that connexin hemichannels are involved in the spread of injury within the first three hours after oxygen deprivation.

"The aim of this research is to investigate the channels and receptors that may contribute to the spread of injury after the connexin hemichannels open ... Blocking channels and receptors downstream of connexin hemichannels may successfully prevent the spread of injury and allow for treatment to be started later," says Dr Davidson.

Dr Tania Slatter of the University of Otago has also received a Sir Charles Hercus fellowship of $500,000, building on her impressive career to date which includes receiving a 2010 HRC Emerging researcher first grant. Dr Slatter’s research centres on improving the outcome for patients with brain tumours.

"High-grade tumours in the brain are largely incurable, and up to 40 per cent of those with cancer will develop a brain tumour metastasis. The aim of this study is to find genetic markers that will identify patients at risk of developing metastases in the brain, and for those that have primary brain tumours, to find markers that can predict survival, the rate of tumour progression, and response to treatment," says Dr Slatter.

This year the HRC has also awarded its unique Foxley fellowship to Dr Carol Atmore from the University of Otago, Dunedin, a general practitioner for more than 20 years. The Foxley fellowship provides health sector professionals with a salary so that they can undertake a research sabbatical at a tertiary institution, strengthening the links between research and health system changes. Dr Atmore, who worked on the South Island’s West Coast for many years, will identify actions that can improve the quality of hospital care for New Zealand’s rural communities.

See below for the list of all the recipients of the HRC Sir Charles Hercus health research fellowship and Foxley fellowship-, or go to www.hrc.govt.nz/funding-opportunities/recipients and filter for ‘Career development awards’ and ‘2016’.

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