'Lion's share' of research grants to university

A university of Otago study which could develop new therapies against Alzheimer's disease is among a series of research projects boosted by $33.35 million in grants in the latest Health Research Council funding round.

Otago University researchers gained the "lion's share" of the overall HRC funding available, receiving 40% of the $81.88 million provided nationally, university officials said.

Otago University gained 25 research contracts, the largest number gained by any research institution. Auckland University gained 19 contracts (about $24 million).

The Otago University outcome is better than last year, when Otago researchers gained $30.3 million, or 36% of the overall $83.58 million HRC pool.

University research and enterprise deputy vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne was delighted by the "outstanding success" of Otago researchers in the highly competitive round.

The funding will support four major multi-year programmes, two of them new, and two extensions.

One of the new programmes focuses on the early detection and treatment of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, which afflict more than 40,000 New Zealanders.

This five-year programme, led by Prof Cliff Abraham, of the psychology department, aims to develop new treatment strategies and better identify those at risk of cognitive decline so treatments can be delivered at an early stage.

Prof Abraham was "thrilled" to gain $4,479,233 for the programme.

The research team will search for patterns of molecules in the blood of healthy elderly people that predict the development of later dementia.

Researchers will also study the therapeutic effectiveness of neuroprotective molecules in animal models of Alzheimer's disease.

Principal investigators in the study include Dr Joanna Williams, Dr Stephanie Hughes, Prof Murray Skeaff and Dr Nick Cutfield.

The other new five-year programme, led by Prof Tony Blakely, of the university's Wellington campus, received $4,996,275 to tackle epidemiology and health equity issues.

Dr Dorothy Begg, a senior research fellow at the university's injury prevention research unit, was "delighted" to gain a $4,353,633 programme extension, over three years, for research involving injury prevention and reducing subsequent disability outcomes.

The funding was a "major achievement" for the unit, she said.

Prof Andrew Mercer, of the department of microbiology and immunology, and colleagues have also gained three year programme extension ($4,978,146) to continue their world-class research on human pathogenic viruses, officials said.

Otago researchers have also been funded to investigate many key mechanisms, including those involved in tumours, stroke, gout, and cardiac injury.

Other new Otago HRC contracts include. -Projects, Prof Antony Braithwaite, pathology, $1,158,492; Dr Colin Brown, physiology, $709,665; Dr Andrew Clarkson, anatomy and structural biology, $880,407; Associate Prof Catherine Day, biochemistry, $991,988; Prof Barry Taylor, paediatrics and child health, $1,199,740; Prof Robert Walker, medicine, $772,060; HRC Emerging Researcher First Grants, Dr Andrew Bahn, Dr Rachel Brown, Dr Peter Saxton, Dr Jonathan Shemmell, Dr Tania Slatter, all about $150,000.



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