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The University of Otago's Centre for International Health has received a grant of about $NZ500,000 through the European Commission (EC), to research links between tuberculosis (Tb) and type 2 diabetes.
This is the centre's biggest external grant in the nearly five years since it was founded, suggesting the centre was gaining momentum and attracting growing international recognition, officials said.
Centre co-director Prof Philip Hill said it had been a "special" achievement to have gained part of 6 million ($NZ9.46 million) awarded to the new overall research project by the EC.
"We couldn't apply on our own; we needed to be part of a consortium and offer something that is not easily available within the EU."
The centre's "previous field studies in Tb" and its "growing collaboration" with Padjadjaran University, in Indonesia, had provided that.
Prof Hill, who has an extensive record in Tb research in developing countries, will be part of the multidisciplinary consortium, linking field sites in four Tb-endemic countries - Romania, Peru, South Africa and Indonesia - that were experiencing a rapid growth of type 2 diabetes.
Through the overall project, known as Tandem (Tuberculosis and Diabetes Mellitus), Otago researchers will collaborate with leading laboratories in Germany, UK, Netherlands and Romania.
Further funding is also coming to Otago centre-co-ordinated research through a $250,000 Health Research Council scholarship recently awarded to Dr Ayesha Verrall, an Otago medical graduate.
Early next year, she will begin PhD research in Indonesia, supervised by Prof Hill.
This year, throughout the world, nine million people would be diagnosed with Tb and "up to 1.4 million will die from it", Prof Hill said.
Just under 400 million people were living with diabetes and about 10-20% of new cases of Tb were also diabetic.
Diabetes was clearly a "significant player" in increasing Tb disease, presumably through an effect on the immune system.
The fact that the number of people worldwide with diabetes was increasing "at an alarming rate" would adversely affect global Tb control, he said.
Prof Hill, who was part of the team that designed the study, said the consortium wanted to test the hypothesis that screening and management could be greatly improved and simplified, with a major impact on the control of Tb and diabetes co-morbidity.
Through the multi-site study, researchers would end up with 1500 to 2000 Tb cases to study - including about 400 at the Indonesian site - and, of the overall total, about 350 to 400 would also have diabetes.