$30.3m in grants for Otago health researchers

Prof Allan Herbison (right), director of the University of Otago Centre for Neuroendocrinology,...
Prof Allan Herbison (right), director of the University of Otago Centre for Neuroendocrinology, and Dr Greg Anderson, a principal investigator at the centre, have gained funding to study the brain's role in controlling human fertility. Photo by Linda Robertson.
A University of Otago study exploring links between ageing and the risk of chronic disease is among a series of research projects boosted by $30.3 million in grants in the latest Health Research Council funding round.

Otago University researchers received grants totalling 36% of the overall $83.58 million available nationally from the HRC this year.

This outcome was better than in the previous funding round last year, when Otago researchers gained about $21.6 million (34%) of the overall $63 million HRC pool.

Among the latest highlights was a new $4,568,389 three-year programme grant to Otago University's Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study to undertake a planned study of health-related aspects of ageing.

Some of the research, led by study director Prof Richie Poulton, will test the novel hypothesis that a persistent history of psychiatric disorder might accelerate individuals' risk of progression towards age-related cardiovascular disease, HRC officials said.

The health and development study, which has for several decades tracked the progress of about 1000 people born in Dunedin in 1972-73, will also investigate oral health up to the age of 38, and will consider sexual and reproductive health at the same age.

Otago deputy vice-chancellor, research and enterprise, Prof Harlene Hayne said it was "fantastic" 25 Otago University health research programmes and projects with "great potential to produce significant health benefits for individuals, families and communities" had been supported in the latest round.

Prof Poulton was yesterday "relieved and very grateful" the funding had been granted.

Subject to satisfactory performance, HRC funding could also be gained for a further three years, providing some security for the study to continue in difficult economic times, he said.

The overall HRC funding supports a wide range of Otago University programmes and projects, from investigations of basic biomedical mechanisms involved in cancer and other diseases to community-level interventions aimed at making homes healthier, and tackling childhood obesity.

Research will be undertaken at the university's Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington campuses.

Members of the Otago Centre for Neuroendocrinology have also received grants totalling more than $4.1 million to continue their research into unravelling how the brain controls fertility.

Centre director Prof Allan Herbison, Dr Greg Anderson and Dr Rebecca Campbell have gained funds through a $3,242,207 three-year centre programme extension. Prof Dave Grattan has gained $949,105 for a related study.

Prof Herbison was "absolutely delighted" 11 scientists - eight part-time and three full-time - and 10 undergraduate and postgraduate students involved in the centre could continue to be funded.

The centre was a world leader in exploring how the brain controlled fertility, research which could ultimately result in new treatments for infertility and new approaches to birth control, he said.

Dr Roslyn Kemp, a microbiology researcher who is also working collaboratively with the university's Cancer Genetics Laboratory, has gained a $133,413 HRC Emerging Researcher First Grant to study aspects of colorectal cancer immune responses.

Other Dunedin grants: Dr Elspeth Gold, anatomy and structural biology, $953,695; Prof Janet Hoek, marketing, $740,727; Prof Ian Morison, pathology, $1,326,265; Dr Rachael Taylor, medical and surgical sciences, $1,307,272; and another $799,244 grant; HRC Feasibility Study Project, Dr Rebbecca Lilley, preventive and social medicine, $65,966.


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