Funding gives study 'breathing space'

With Health Research Council funding about to run out, an internationally-recognised University of Otago study has just been thrown a $641,000 lifeline.

For more than 40 years, the university's Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study has been supported by the Medical Research Council and then by its successor body, the Health Research Council (HRC).

The Dunedin study gained a $1.85 million HRC programme grant in 2008, and, from mid-2012, gained $5.5 million in extension funds.

That funding runs out at the end of this month and a further programme funding application to the HRC earlier this year was declined, for the first time.

But the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment announced yesterday it would provide base funding of $641,000 to the Dunedin study in 2015-16 while ''longer-term funding arrangements'' were explored.

The Dunedin study has followed the developing lives of 1037 babies born in the city in 1972-73, and the resulting research has proved internationally influential.

MBIE science, skills and innovation deputy chief executive Paul Stocks said the Dunedin study of human health, development and behaviour had gained international recognition.

This reflected several factors, including the high calibre of its research and the ''significance of its ground-breaking findings''.

But the study's long-term nature and its broad coverage across a range of sectors - health, social, education and justice - meant it did not ''easily fit within existing funding criteria''.

MBIE was ''very pleased'' to contribute a base level of funding this year, he said.

Study director Prof Richie Poulton, of the Otago psychology department, said he took ''tremendous heart'' from MBIE's support and its recognition of ''the importance of the Dunedin study for the country''.

''And my staff also feel most grateful because they all continue to have a job,'' he added.

The study has four full-time Dunedin staff and other part-time staff also played a crucial role in the study's success.

The funding had ''given us breathing space'' and study organisers would now have to ''think deeply and carefully about the future'', Prof Poulton said.

He acknowledged the Dunedin study had been supported by the HRC but ''everything changes'', and the study's primary funder in future might not be the HRC.

''I feel extremely positive about the future,'' he added.

MBIE had shown ''incredible faith in us'' and he was convinced that faith would be repaid.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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