Award to help gout research

Alana Alexander. Photos: Supplied
Alana Alexander. Photos: Supplied
One of the country's leading research scientists is looking forward to doing more research and fewer funding applications, after winning a prestigious James Cook Fellowship.

Tony Merriman, of the University of Otago, is a leader in gout and metabolic disease research and said the fellowship, awarded by the Royal Society Te Aparangi, would help him continue his research into the genetic causes of gout and related diseases in New Zealand.

Prof Merriman said he was delighted with the recognition that came with the fellowship.

But in a practical sense, he said it would also provide some respite from having to find precious research funding for his salary and enable him to concentrate on his research over the next two years.

Rachael Baxter
Rachael Baxter

"It is wonderful to receive the fellowship and be able to concentrate on the genetics of metabolic disease - gout, diabetes, kidney and heart disease - in Maori and Pacific people."

Gout is a debilitating arthritic disease caused by persistently elevated levels of urate in the blood, leaving many people with severe joint pain and swelling.

If left untreated, it can cause serious damage to joints, kidneys and quality of life.

Prof Merriman said the genetic control of urate (hyperuricemia) was becoming better understood, but less was known about why only some people with raised levels of urate developed gout.

Tony Merriman
Tony Merriman
To address this, he is leading an international consortium to scan the human genome for genes controlling the progression from hyperuricemia to gout.

His colleagues, Alana Alexander, from the Department of Anatomy and PhD student Rachael Baxter are among another 10 researchers acknowledged by the Royal Society through fellowships and scholarships.

Dr Alexander was awarded a two-year Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to investigate whether hologenomic approaches can answer key questions in conservation biology; and Ms Baxter was awarded a three-year Cambridge Rutherford Memorial PhD Scholarship to investigate triggers of volcanic eruptions.


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