University of Otago researchers have gained more than
$31.3 million in new Health Research Council (HRC) funding,
more than double the comparable Otago funding last year, to
undertake more cutting-edge health studies.
In the overall $78 million HRC funding round, Otago
researchers gained more than twice the $15.5 million they
received in a similar round last year.
Otago researchers gained 24 contracts, including 14 research
projects and three of the four major five-year programmes,
the latter each receiving about $5 million.
Otago research and enterprise deputy vice-chancellor Prof
Richard Blaikie was ''over the moon'' about the success,
including grants for researchers at Otago's Christchurch and
Wellington campuses, in the strongly contested round.
It was also ''very pleasing'' half of the 14 Emerging
Researcher First Grants had gone to Otago researchers, he
Two of the Otago research programmes will explore matters
linked to New Zealand's growing obesity epidemic.
University of Otago academic Prof Dave Grattan.. Photo by
Prof Dave Grattan, of the Otago anatomy department, has
been awarded nearly $5 million, to undertake a new study.
This will focus partly on how the pregnancy hormones
prolactin and placental lactogen induce changes in the
mother's brain to help her adapt to the physiological and
metabolic demands of pregnancy.
Serious complications could arise if related changes went
awry, with resulting conditions including maternal obesity,
gestational diabetes and postnatal depression.
Prof Grattan was ''absolutely thrilled'' to gain the funding,
which would keep a more than 20-strong research team
Maternal obesity was ''incredibly common'' in New Zealand,
and was known to have long-term effects, including on
But the detailed causes of maternal obesity were not well
understood, and more knowledge was needed, he said.
Associate Prof Tony Merriman, of the Otago biochemistry
department, felt ''relief'' that a more than 10-strong
research group at Otago, investigating gout-related issues,
could be kept together, maintaining collaborative links with
researchers elsewhere, including abroad.
The programme, headed by Prof Merriman, aims to improve the
understanding of the causes, treatment and prevention of gout
by studying the complex interplay of genetic and
environmental risk factors, including alcohol and sugary
drinks, in the development of this ''painful and debilitating
New Zealand researchers had built an international reputation
in this field, and aspects of the research, including matters
such as sugary drink consumption, were also linked to
concerns about New Zealand's obesity epidemic across the
general population, Prof Merriman said.
The third programme involves researchers led by Prof Mark
Richards, at Otago's Christchurch Heart Institute, who will
evaluate markers for diagnosing and managing heart failure.
Other Dunedin-based HRC funding recipients: Prof Antony
Braithwaite, pathology, $1,176,905; Prof Susan Dovey, general
practice and rural health, $1,174,690; Associate Prof Greg
Jones, surgical sciences, $1,138,354; Dr Brett Maclennan,
preventive and social medicine, $1,190,521; Associate Prof
Sally McCormick, biochemistry, $1,044,053; Prof Ian McLennan,
anatomy, $1,169,770; Prof Neil McNaughton, psychology,
$1,040,728; Prof Stephen Robertson, women's and child health,
$1,185,630; Emerging researcher first grants: Dr Katherine
Black, human nutrition, $149,994; Dr Allan Gamble, pharmacy,
$144,275; Dr Christopher Jackson, medicine, $145,529; Dr
Sandra Mandic, physical education, sport and exercise
sciences, $149,941; Dr Ninya Maubach, marketing, $109,940; Dr
Emma Wyeth, preventive and social medicine, $149,410.