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HRC Invests Over $1.07m To Help Build International Health Research Partnerships

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

2 September 2008 - More than $1.07M has been invested by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) into three international health research collaborations.

These projects bring together New Zealand health researchers and international partners to investigate important health issues including long term effects of early nutrition and maternal care, metabolism and obesity, and brain injury.

The collaborations are funded through Objective 1 of the International Investment Opportunities Fund (IIOF), which focuses on enabling outstanding New Zealand researchers to build research collaborations with overseas research teams. The fund supports applicants to engage in research activities that will produce gains for New Zealand, offer significant leverage to build New Zealand's health research capacity, and are likely to attract international co-funding to support longer term research projects.

Each of the research proposals selected has the potential to benefit the health of New Zealanders.

Details of funding approved by the HRC Board and offered to research teams in the 2008/09 round of IIOF Objective 1 are as follows:

Nature versus Nurture: Nutrition and Maternal Care Affecting Health and Disease Risk 24 months, $398,000 Principle investigator: Dr Deborah Sloboda, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland, (09) 3737 599.

Lead international partner: Professor Michael Meaney, Professor of Medicine and Neurology and Director, Program for the study of Behavior, Genes and Environment, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

Project Summary: We have an opportunity to engage in an international collaboration with a leading Canadian laboratory investigating the critical importance of maternal care in modifying genes that regulate neuroendocrine development. Early life events serve as potent determinants of vulnerability to chronic illness (obesity, diabetes, behavioural disorders). We have shown poor early life nutrition induces maladaptive responses leading to programming of metabolic disease and cognitive deficits in offspring. Prof Meaney has shown strikingly similar phenotypic outcomes when maternal care is altered. Therefore, long term deficits due to changes in early nutrition and maternal care may share common mechanistic pathways. This timely collaboration affords the unique opportunity to investigate molecular mechanisms by which an interaction between early life nutrition and maternal care serves to alter key genes regulating endocrine development and subsequent responses to stress. Identification of such mechanisms will contribute to strategies related to optimising maternal health and childhood development worldwide.

Developmental adaptation to an obesogenic environment 24 months, $365,000 Principle investigator: Professor Peter Gluckman, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland, (09) 3737 599.

Lead international partner: Professor Terrence E. Forrester, Tropical Metabolism Research Unit, Tropical Medicine Research Institute, University of West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica.

Project Summary: Our experimental and conceptual studies on pathways to metabolic disease suggest that young mammals adopt developmental trajectories leading to adaptation either for a relatively higher or lower energy environment. We hypothesise this is an important determinant of individual sensitivity within an obesogenic environment. In animals we showed this has an epigenetic basis. A unique opportunity exists to test our hypothesis in humans. A Jamaican cohort of young adult survivors of severe childhood malnutrition (kwashiorkor or marasmus) is characterised by different post-rehabilitation metabolism (in childhood) and different birth-weights. We propose an international collaboration with Universities in Singapore and Southampton and the renowned Tropical Metabolism Research Unit in Jamaica to test our hypothesis using nutritional, metabolic and epigenetic techniques. Such evidence would significantly advance understanding of developmental contributions to metabolic control in humans, identify better strategies for targeting interventions for obesity and co-morbidities, and facilitate our acquiring international support for further studies. Rescuing memory loss after brain injury 24 months, $390,000 Principle investigator: Associate Professor John Dalrymple-Alford, Department of Psychology, University of Canterbury, (03) 364 2998.

Lead international partner: Professor John P. Aggleton, Professor in Psychology and Neuroscience, Cardiff University, Wales, UK.

Project Summary: Many kinds of brain injury or disease impair memory and cognition. This burden is increasing in societies like New Zealand because the proportion of elderly is increasing rapidly. A unique international collaboration, with exchange of expertise between two NZ, one UK, and three French centres, together with colleagues based in Greece and America, will determine neural changes associated with reversal of severe pathological memory impairments. Our "recovery of function" model uses a proven behavioural intervention in animals that prevents or minimises the amnesic syndrome produced by injury to a key part of the brain's memory system. We will determine how this recovery changes the structure, function and connectivity of the brain to test hypotheses about the neural mechanisms underlying rescued memory. Understanding the mechanisms of rescue will facilitate development of new or complementary interventions and pro-memory treatments for human memory disorders, such as early dementia and stroke-induced amnesia.

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