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News and Media
Our latest and archived media releases and news articles.
29 March 2017
A new version of the popular US-designed smartphone app ‘Step Away’ can now be developed and tested to help adults in New Zealand self-manage their hazardous drinking.
University of Auckland Honorary Associate Professor Natalie Walker has received a feasibility grant from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) to determine if six months’ access to a New Zealand Step Away app can reduce the frequency of alcohol abuse in a group of adult hazardous drinkers in Auckland.
The Step Away app is the product of a four-year development effort, funded by the US National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA). The app leads users through coping strategies, monitors how often they drink, identifies ‘triggers’, and gives weekly feedback reports tracking their progress in kicking bad habits. The New Zealand researchers are collaborating with the US team to develop something that works here.
Dr Walker says to date, Step Away is the only publicly available and evidence-based alcohol-related mobile app grounded in sound psychological theory. However, in its current form the app is unsuitable for New Zealand users as it incorporates North American drinking norms and safe drinking guidelines, numerous ‘Americanisms’, and links to US-based care services.
“There are beneficial and cost-effective treatments for people who are drinking at hazardous levels, but few drinkers actually receive help. Mobile phone-based alcohol interventions have the potential to reach a larger number of individuals with alcohol problems and can support self-management of alcohol consumption,” says Dr Walker.
“As yet there hasn’t been a definitive clinical trial of the effectiveness of the Step Away app. With the support of this HRC grant, we can now create a New Zealand version of this app and determine how feasible it is to test using a robust clinical trial design.”
Professor Patrick Dulin, Professor of Psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage in the US, is a co-investigator on the study. Professor Dulin was the lead developer on the original Step Away app and is currently developing a specific Step Away app version for US veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
HRC Chief Executive Professor Kath McPherson says she welcomes steps to support people throughout this difficult change in behaviours, saying there’s a huge cost to New Zealand society from alcohol abuse.
“Twenty per cent of deaths among 15 to 34-year-olds can be attributed to alcohol, mostly from road injuries, while the cost of alcohol-related harm in New Zealand is about $5.3 billion a year or $14.5 million a day, let alone the human costs to the people affected and their families,” says Professor McPherson.
“This study is a smart and cost-effective way to leverage off the considerable research efforts of the NIAA in the US and adapt a New Zealand-specific app that can be fast-tracked to fill a treatment gap here, providing a widely distributed, first point of contact for individuals with an alcohol problem,” she says.
The HRC today announced a combined total of $2 million worth of feasibility grants, up from $1.05 million in 2016.
See below for the full list of 2017 HRC Feasibility Study recipients or to read lay summaries of the research projects, go to www.hrc.govt.nz/funding-opportunities/recipients and filter for ‘Researcher Initiated Proposals,’ ‘Feasibility Studies’ and ‘2017’.
2017 Feasibility Study Grants
Dr Nigel Harris, Auckland University of Technology
Curriculum-based high-intensity interval training for young adolescents
18 months, $190,967
Dr Stephen Inns, University of Otago, Wellington
Effects of Helicobacter pylori in pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes
24 months, $246,768
Associate Professor Jeremy Krebs, University of Otago, Wellington
Preventing progression from pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes in New Zealanders
12 months, $248,242
Dr William Levack, University of Otago, Wellington
Taking charge of COPD: A low-cost self-management intervention
24 months, $249,318
Professor Ralph Maddison, the University of Auckland
Feasibility of a mobile game to improve diabetes self-management in young people
24 months, $249,998
Dr Daniel Ribeiro, University of Otago, Dunedin
The effectiveness of tailored rehabilitation versus standard exercise programme
24 months, $213,067
Professor Richard Siegert, Auckland University of Technology
Mindfulness training for people after stroke: A feasibility study
24 months, $249,858
Dr Daniel Sutton, Auckland University of Technology
Sensory modulation for anxiety in primary health care: A feasibility study
18 months, $164,635
Honorary Associate Professor Natalie Walker, the University of Auckland
Feasibility of a smartphone-based support system for hazardous drinkers
18 months, $187,415
27 March 2017
A leading Chinese biotech company has partnered with New Zealand’s top independent biomedical research institute to trial and manufacture new cancer vaccines, giving New Zealanders the opportunity to access promising new treatments early.
Hunan Zhaotai Medical Group (HZMG), based in Changsha in China, and the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research today launched the new biotech joint venture Wellington Zhaotai Therapies in Wellington.
Professor Graham Le Gros, Director of the Malaghan Institute, says Wellington Zhaotai Therapies will focus on developments in a breakthrough area of oncology called CAR-T cell immunotherapy.
“This process involves taking a patient’s T cells and using a particular virus to genetically alter them to express a specific receptor – a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) – on the cell surface. These cells are then enriched and administered to the patient to target the tumour,” says Professor Le Gros.
“Our collaborators in China have a substantial pipeline of therapies that have undergone initial clinical trials in China and are now ready to be developed under a western regulatory environment here in New Zealand; this would then lead on to international trials and regulatory approval.”
The Malaghan Institute has an international reputation as an immunology research centre, supported over the past 20 years by substantial investment from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), including $14.2 million awarded through the Capability in Independent Research Organisations Fund, and MBIE Pre-Seed Accelerator Funding administered by the Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) to support the development of this partnership.
“We have always treated our success gaining government funding as a badge of honour given the high calibre of competition for funding within New Zealand. This track record of investment was a key element in demonstrating our ability to deliver to our partners in China, along with the support we receive from our generous philanthropic donors,” says Professor Le Gros.
HRC Chief Executive Professor Kath McPherson says this exciting new development shows how long-term health research investment can have huge health and economic benefits for New Zealanders and New Zealand.
“This partnership will bring cutting-edge new cellular therapies into New Zealand, providing access to some very promising new treatments. It will also attract offshore investment into New Zealand R&D, and pave the way for more collaborations with China who will be an increasingly influential force in health research in the coming years,” says Professor McPherson.
KiwiNet CEO Dr James Hutchinson is excited about the potential for this venture to accelerate the transformation of research discoveries to marketable products for New Zealand.
“Improving researchers’ links with experienced private sector partners such as HZMG will undoubtedly strengthen the commercial capabilities of New Zealand’s scientists,” he says.
27 March 2017
New Zealand and China have signed an arrangement that paves the way for establishing new scientific collaborations in biomedical research.
Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) Board Chair Dr Lester Levy and National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC)* Vice President Dr Liu Congqiang signed the arrangement on scientific cooperation between the two organisations at a special signing ceremony in Wellington today.
The arrangement aims to:
- establish new and/or strengthen existing collaborations in biomedical sciences between Chinese and New Zealand researchers from universities and research institutions
- foster breakthroughs in biomedical research that will advance the global development of science and technology
- promote mobility and career development of researchers within joint projects
This arrangement will extend opportunities for New Zealand’s scientists to engage with researchers and facilities in China in areas of key concern for New Zealand. It will particularly focus on ensuring New Zealand’s future leaders are connected to leaders, and future leaders, in China, and to grow successful research collaborations.
*NSFC manages the National Natural Science Fund, aimed at promoting and financing basic and applied research in China.
22 March 2017
Kiwi researchers have developed a new and simple process that is helping therapists accurately predict how well their patients will regain the use of their hands and arms after a stroke.
Associate Professor Cathy Stinear and her team at the University of Auckland have created and tested a unique algorithm with therapists treating stroke patients at Auckland Hospital as part of a Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC)-funded study to better target stroke rehabilitation and improve patients’ outcomes.
The PREP algorithm (Predicting REcovery Potential) can be used in the initial days after a person has had a stroke to predict if they will have an ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘limited’ or ‘poor’ recovery of their hand and arm.
The findings from the study, which have been published online this month in the top international journal Stroke, showed the algorithm could correctly predict how well stroke patients’ hands and arms recovered in about 80 per cent of cases, something which is notoriously difficult to do otherwise.
“Your ability to live independently six months after a stroke depends on three main things: your age, the severity of the initial stroke, and how well your hand and arm recover movement. We can’t do anything about your age or how bad your stroke was, but we can do something about how we rehabilitate your hand and arm,” says Dr Stinear.
Research done overseas shows that therapists aren’t very good at predicting how well someone who has had a stroke will be using their hand and arm in three or six months’ time, regardless of how much clinical experience they have. Dr Stinear says there have been particular difficulties predicting recovery in the middle group – that’s people whose movement is not terrible, but not great either.
In this study, recovery predictions were provided for 110 stroke patients and withheld from 82 stroke patients in a comparison group.
Dr Stinear and her team found that therapists who used PREP were more confident that they knew what to expect for their patients’ recovery. This knowledge helped them to tailor their rehabilitation therapy to better meet each patients’ individual needs. In turn, this helped their patients to leave hospital and get back to their homes a week earlier on average than patients who didn’t receive the prediction information.
“What we’ve done is develop a simple algorithm that can make accurate predictions for individual patients, help therapists confidently tailor their therapy, and help patients leave hospital a week earlier with no negative effects on their recovery or satisfaction with care,” says Dr Stinear.
Using the PREP algorithm, the prognosis for close to two-thirds of stroke patients can be made with a simple two-minute clinical assessment of strength in a person’s upper limb. If patients score less than 5 out of 10 on this test (about a third of patients), therapists then use a safe and non-invasive method called transcranial stimulation (TMS) to test how well messages are getting from the stroke side of the brain down to the muscles of the weak hand and arm.
“We’ve had patients who can’t move their hand and arm at all, but when we use the TMS test and stimulate that movement area of their brain, we can see a response in those muscles. This tells us that even though things are looking pretty grim for that person at that point in time, they actually have great potential for recovery because the system still works,” says Dr Stinear.
“This information helps us identify patients whose potential for recovery with intense therapeutic input might otherwise go unrecognised and unrealised. It’s also really important for the patient and their family because it gives them hope and makes them more optimistic about recovery.”
For patients who don’t reach the required threshold in the TMS test, an MRI scan is used to see how much structural damage has been done to the key connections in their brain responsible for movement. This can be used to predict if there are enough residual connections to get at least some movement back to help with basic things like dressing and bathing.
One possible concern was that people with a worse outlook might not be given as much rehabilitation, however, Dr Stinear says this wasn’t the case. The predictions didn’t affect the amount of therapy that patients completed, only the goals and content of the therapy. Patients who received the prediction information recovered just as well those who didn’t.
Dr Stinear’s HRC funding also supported neurological physiotherapist and doctoral student Marie-Claire Smith to run a parallel study for patients with walking difficulties after a stroke. Ms Smith has created another algorithm that can predict when stroke patients will be able to walk independently again with more than 90 per cent accuracy and using just two simple clinical assessments.
HRC Chief Executive Professor Kath McPherson says this research will help therapists and the families of stroke patients get a much more accurate picture of both the level and duration of support that the stroke patient is going to need.
“This is a great example of translational research in action. Cathy and her team have trained therapists at Auckland Hospital to use this tool and they are currently busy helping other hospitals in New Zealand and the US and UK to use it too. They’ve also committed to making all of the resources developed freely available to download online through their wikispace site to give back to the community and maximise New Zealanders’ return on investment,” says Professor McPherson.
View the publication in Stroke: http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/early/2017/03/09/STROKEAHA.116.015790?ijkey=dYpqSi2hJIroQz1&keytype=ref
More information on PREP is available at http://prepforstrokerehab.wikispaces.com/