University of Auckland scoops major research grants

Genetic risk factors for metabolic disease, dietary interventions and surgery recovery are all set for intense research after academics at the University of Auckland received millions in funding from the HRC.

Professor Peter Shepherd

Three academics from the University’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences will lead research teams in their fields of expertise.

The HRC has just announced funding for five research programmes to the tune of $24.61 million. These highly sought-after grants go towards programmes with a strategic long-term vision that will contribute to improving health outcomes for New Zealanders. Of the five grants made, three totalling nearly $15 million in funding have been granted to academics at FMHS.

These grants make a significant contribution to our academic research in the future and have high potential for national & international impact.

Professor Andrew Shelling

Professor Peter Shepherd of the Faculty’s Molecular Medicine and Pathology department received nearly $5 million for a 60-month study into understanding genetic risk factors for metabolic disease.

The programme will focus on using genetics to identify mechanisms contributing to increased metabolic disease risk in Māori and Pacific people. It is based on work originating from the Maurice Wilkins Centre and is in partnership with Ngati Porou Hauora and the Moko Foundation.

Professor Shepheard says that while the risks of obesity and type-2 diabetes is greatly increased in Māori and Pacific people compared with other New Zealanders of European descent, the reasons for this are not fully understood.

Genetic differences may play an important role in these differences as highlighted by a recent identification of a gene variant that increased risk of higher body mass but decreased risk of type-2 diabetes. This variant is found in 30-40% of Māori and Pacific people but is virtually absent from NZ Europeans.

“Our programme of research will investigate the mechanisms by which this and other gene variants specific for Māori and Pacific are able to affect body mass and influence risk of type-2 diabetes and we will go on to determine how the these gene variants might influence the response of people to drugs used to treat type-2 diabetes.”

Also receiving funding is Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu of the Faculty’s School of Population Health, who has received nearly $5 million in funding for a 60-month programme studying whether Health Star Rating labels on packaged foods really affect our food choices, and can supermarket practices change our buying behaviour.

Professor Ni Mhurchu and a team of leading nutrition researchers from New Zealand and Australia, will look at strategies to support healthier diets across four different domains; at an individual level, government level, food industry level and public health level.

In another 60-month study Associate Professor Gregory O’Grady of the School of Medicine has received nearly $5 million to research translational advances in gastrointestinal surgical recovery and motility disorders.

FMHS Associate Dean of Research, Professor Andrew Shelling, says the grants reflect the skill and diversity of academics at the faculty.

“The Faculty has been very fortunate this year in securing $36.6 million in funding from both the project and programme round. This is a great achievement considering the highly competitive nature of funding.”

Professor Shelling says as well as supporting highly innovate and transformative research, the research is investing in our current & future health needs and will progress the health equality of all New Zealanders.

“These grants make a significant contribution to our academic research in the future and have high potential for national & international impact.”

“Congratulations again, I look forward to the great results and ongoing success in research from the Faculty.”

2018 University of Auckland Programme Grants

Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu
Dietary Interventions: Evidence & Translation (DIET) programme
60 months, $4,879,689

Associate Professor Gregory O'Grady
Translational advances in gastrointestinal surgical recovery and motility disorders
60 months, $4,953,846

Professor Peter Shepherd
Understanding genetic risk factors for metabolic disease in Maori and Pacific
60 months, $4,997,081

2018 University of Auckland Funded Projects

Professor Margaret Brimble
Naturally occurring peptaibols: “Magic bullets” for targeting breast cancer
36 months, $1,195,373

Professor Larry Chamley
Placental extracellular vesicles, controllers of the maternal vasculature
36 months, $1,187,064

Dr David Crossman
Nanoscale fibrosis and loss of contractility in the failing human heart
36 months, $1,182,220

Associate Professor Maurice Curtis
Identifying the first signs of dementia in humans
36 months, $891,792

Dr Joanne Davidson
Look before we leap: strategies for treating mild neonatal encephalopathy
36 months, $1,185,478

Associate Professor Mhoyra Fraser
New horizons for preterm brain protection: exploiting endogenous neuroprotection
36 months, $1,187,296

Professor Jane Harding
Nutrition and brain development in moderate and late preterm babies
36 months, $1,187,239

Ms Gayl Humphrey
Smart phone delivered CBT for gambling related harm: An RCT
36 months, $1,190,695

Associate Professor Michael Jameson
More gain, less pain from chemoradiation for rectal cancer by adding simvastatin
60 months, $1,399,054

Professor Ngaire Kerse
Staying UpRight in residential care
36 months, $1,443,303

Associate Professor Bridget Kool
Evaluating the impact of prehospital care on mortality following major trauma
30 months, $1,096,497

Professor Ralph Maddison
Rugby fans in training: A randomised controlled trial
36 months, $1,199,266

Professor Mark McKeage
Reducing oxaliplatin toxicity: A randomised dose-finding proof-of-concept trial
36 months, $1,195,454

Dr Suresh Muthukumaraswamy
Pharmacological brain-imaging of novel rapid antidepressant medicines
36 months, $1,187,508

Associate Professor Adam Patterson
Banishing tumour hypoxia to render cancer immunotherapy curative
36 months, $1,197,122

Dr Rohit Ramchandra
Targeting chemoreceptors in hypertension: a large animal pre-clinical trial
36 months, $1,187,099

Professor Robert Scragg
Improving CVD risk prediction in primary care: novel arterial waveform method
48 months, $1,199,504

Professor Peter Shepherd
A new combination therapy for cancer
36 months, $1,166,624

Funded Pacific Projects

Dr Gerhard Sundborn
How has a 'water only' and 'healthy kai' school policy impacted on child obesity
36 months, $553,966

Funded Rangahau Hauora Māori Projects

Dr Donna Cormack
Te whakahaumaru taiao: safe environments for Māori medical practitioners
36 months, $994,669

Dr Sarah-Jane Paine
Revealing the Realities of Racism for Rangatahi in Aotearoa - R4Aotearoa
36 months, $1,197,117

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