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News and Media
Our latest and archived media releases and news articles.
20 February 2017
Australia and New Zealand have signed a ground-breaking bilateral international science agreement in Queenstown.
The Australia – New Zealand Science, Research and Innovation Cooperation Agreement is a commitment to valuable collaboration across the innovation and science systems, and between researchers and innovative companies, on both sides of the Tasman.
Key initial proposals include mapping collaborative research opportunities, research infrastructure planning and investment, standards and measurement research, and the exchange of experts, knowledge and expertise.
The agreement also provides for a wide array of future initiatives such as common science priorities, working together in other international endeavours, and the promotion of a trans-Tasman innovation ecosystem for talent and investment attraction.
More information on the agreement and associated new initiatives can be found on the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment website.
9 February 2017
The government’s announcement today of more than $5.7 million in funding for research into diabetes has the potential to radically transform delivery of health care to hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders with diabetes or prediabetes, says Health Research Council of New Zealand Chief Executive, Professor Kath McPherson.
Three projects, all relating to the prevention and management of diabetes, have been awarded funding through a partnership initiative between the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), Ministry of Health, and the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge.
The successful recipients are the University of Otago, Wellington, for two projects – a study into preventing type 2 diabetes by including probiotics and prebiotics in the diet – and a digital health initiative aimed at helping people prevent and manage diabetes using online tools.
The National Hauora Coalition has also received funding to support a targeted programme aimed at improving outcomes for Māori living with diabetes.
“Chronic, long-term conditions like diabetes can have a significant, debilitating impact on people’s lives and the lives of their families. We have a serious health problem in New Zealand, with diabetes affecting about six per cent of our population,” says Professor McPherson.
“This funding partnership is a great example of a cross-government group working together to develop an evidence-base that will support innovative, effective approaches to tackling diabetes right across the health system. It also signals a major push to reduce health inequities in New Zealand, as our Māori and Pacific populations have a diabetes rate about three times higher than other New Zealanders.”
The successful projects are:
Preventing type 2 diabetes with probiotics and prebiotics (PDP2)
Associate Professor Jeremy Krebs – University of Otago, Wellington
Duration: 36 months
A quarter of New Zealanders have pre-diabetes, which is a condition that can progress to type 2 diabetes and cause significant long-term health problems. There is now research demonstrating that the microbes in our gut affect our health in many ways, including how our bodies process foods and sugars. We can modify our gut microbes by taking probiotic supplements (which contain live bacteria that give health benefits) and prebiotics (substances from foods which support gut microbes).
This study is a blinded randomised placebo-controlled trial to see if taking a probiotic supplement with either a standard cereal or a cereal enriched with a specific prebiotic called beta glucan for six months can improve glucose and fat levels in the blood of adults with pre-diabetes. In addition, this work will evaluate the cost effectiveness of the interventions and how to translate the study findings into clinical practice.
Innovative management of diabetes with a comprehensive digital health programme
Professor Diana Sarfati – University of Otago, Wellington
Duration: 36 months
Six per cent of New Zealand adults have diabetes mellitus and one in four have pre-diabetes. Rates of both are rapidly increasing, and are higher among Māori and Pacific people. We have developed an innovative digital health programme which supports prevention and self-management of pre-diabetes and diabetes. The programme is delivered via web and mobile-based platforms. It integrates with primary care providers and uses peer support, health coaches, health tracking, and tools with engaging content to drive changes in behaviour. Initial pilot results showed that more than 70 per cent of pre-diabetics had normal blood glucose levels after four months on the programme.
We propose a group of studies, including a randomised controlled trial, to assess the clinical and cost effectiveness of this intervention in reversing pre-diabetes and improving self-management of diabetes, compared with usual care. We will explicitly assess the impact among Māori and Pacific people, and focus on translating findings into clinical practice.
Mana Tū: a whānau ora approach to long-term conditions
Dr Matire Harwood – National Hauora Coalition
Duration: 36 months
Diabetes is a long-term condition in which there are significant ethnic and social disparities in prevalence and outcomes. There is huge scope to reduce diabetes inequalities. The complex nature of the condition means a comprehensive and sustained approach that tackles the wider determinants for causes, management and complications is required.
We propose to test Mana Tū – a programme co-designed with whānau, clinicians, health service planners and whānau ora providers to improve the impact of clinical and lifestyle interventions for whānau living with pre-diabetes and people with poorly controlled diabetes. Mana Tū deploys skilled and supported Kaimanaaki-whānau (KMs) in practices. The KMs use a mana whānau approach and work with general practice teams while being operationally supported by a central hub. The hub will co-ordinate broader community and social service support systems for whānau and provide training, programme design, and support within a rich data environment.
*About the partnership
The HRC, Ministry of Health and Healthier Lives National Science Challenge formed Long-Term Conditions Research Partnership to fund research which will improve our understanding of long-term conditions and support rapid transformational change in the delivery of care. The funding partners have an interest in supporting the development of an evidence-base that will support the identification and development of innovative, effective approaches that could be implemented across and beyond the health system.
The partnership presents a unique opportunity to explore new approaches to delivering health care in ways that meet the complex needs of people with long-term conditions. It is anticipated that this will include re-thinking health care delivery systems to coordinate activities and interventions across the continuum of care. For the purpose of this initiative long-term conditions is broadly defined as people with chronic conditions, therefore, people at risk of or having any ongoing, long-term or recurring condition that can have a significant impact on their lives.
8 February 2017
A new, in depth study of children and teenagers struggling with weight issues found their physical activity levels were low, while their screen time was high.
Physical “huff and puff” activity was much lower than national averages, and the vast majority of children and teenagers didn’t meet physical activity guidelines. A third spent more than three hours a day outside of school hours watching TV or other screens.
The 239 children in the study were assessed when they enrolled in a community-based 12-month intervention programme called Whānau Pakari. Aged 4-16, the participants had BMIs in the clinically overweight or obese range, and many had weight-related health problems. Māori and Pakeha each made up 45 percent of the group, with the remaining 10 percent from other ethnicities.
- Moderate to vigorous-intensity exercise was low, with a daily average of 39 minutes compared to 105 minutes in a national survey
- Only a minority (19 per cent) met national physical activity guidelines of at least one hour of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity per day
- Fitness was lower than national averages
- Average screen time was more than 2½ hours per day outside of school hours
- More than a third (34 per cent) had over three hours of screen time outside of school hours
The study was a collaboration between the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland, Taranaki District Health Board, and Sport Taranaki, with funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.
“This study highlighted that physical activity in obese children is low,” says Dr Yvonne Anderson, Liggins Institute researcher, Taranaki paediatrician and co-author of the study.
“This, combined with large screen times, is of concern. We already knew from a past study that almost half of the children have a television or some form of device in their bedrooms, and these children reported having more difficulty getting to sleep than those without devices in the bedroom.”
Researchers also found that as children got older, physical activity decreased.
“The recommended screen time is less than two hours per day outside of school hours, and no screen time for children under the age of two. Recommended physical activity is one hour of moderate to vigorous-intensity ‘huff and puff’ activity per day. Many obese children are not meeting these guidelines,” Dr Anderson says.
Obesity is everyone’s problem, and we’re all part of the solution, she says.
“We all need to work together to ensure children have access to physical activities and environments to undertake these activities in their everyday lives. We need to be role models for our children. As our lives get increasingly filled with technology, we need to unplug and get active with our children.”
Nationally, an estimated 85,000 children aged 2-14 years are obese, and about 4,500 in Taranaki, according to the New Zealand Health Survey.
Whānau Pakari means “Healthy self-assured whānau who are fully active”. The programme, which is still running, involves regular home visits and support from a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals to help whānau make healthy lifestyle changes.
The study was published in Scientific Reports.
News article courtesy of the Liggins Institute, University of Auckland
25 January 2017
Blog by Professor Kath McPherson, Chief Executive of the Health Research Council of New Zealand
Since Donald Trump won the election in November, many in the US science community have been speculating about how medical and health research will fare under a Trump administration. Will funding for US federal research agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) receive a boost or possibly a cut? Will priorities for health research change? And will current levels of interest in, and support for, international research collaboration increase or be challenged?
These and other questions abound, and it’s unclear at this stage just the influence the new administration will have on where research dollars go.
Following the US elections, there have been reports of a step (some say tidal) increase in the number of US citizens, including academics, considering moving to their near neighbour Canada, and even as far away as our shores. Speculation has also been swirling around medical research circles in post-Brexit UK, with researchers there concerned about possible funding cuts – and that dreaded phrase – a brain drain.
All this uncertainly has put a spotlight on the role of government in supporting medical and health research. In New Zealand, we’ll be watching with great interest to see how the US and UK governments approach medical and health research in 2017 as we enter the Trump and post-Brexit era. The past 12 months has seen a heightened focus on health research here too. We’ve seen a landmark increase in funding to the Health Research Council of New Zealand – 56 per cent over four years up to 2019 – and the Ministry of Health and MBIE are currently developing the first ever New Zealand Health Research Strategy.
Increased investment in health research and coordination of effort that is channelled through a cohesive strategy could strengthen our position in this area internationally. Although we are a small country and the amounts invested here are less per head of population than most, New Zealand’s health research capability and capacity is growing. Demonstrating the difference health research makes for our country is a big focus for us at the Health Research Council because it is right that the public sees the significant benefits that come from their investment.
Just how good are New Zealand’s health researchers? Well, research is inevitably a long game and in fact, the big impacts may well come from connected pieces of research rather than from any one study. A recent review of the quality of publications from New Zealand’s health researchers indicates that our researchers are right up there with the best in any country – not in quantity, but in quality, and that is something we should be very proud of.
However, the impact of health research is about more than publications. One person who shows the breadth of this impact (although there are many) is internationally renowned and recently knighted brain researcher Distinguished Professor Sir Richard Faull.
Sir Richard has made a major contribution to the international fight against devastating neurological disorders. The Centre for Brain Research, which he developed and directs, is now one of the most distinguished neuroscience research centres in Australasia. His contribution to health research goes beyond undertaking excellent research, although that is an immense contribution. His passion has enabled him to champion a focus on brain health – particularly aimed at reducing dementia, attracting researchers and students from around our country and internationally to build a world-class brain research team right here in New Zealand.
So, although health research in many parts of the world faces an uncertain future right now, New Zealanders can be confident that its future here looks bright if we remain focused and motivated, invest wisely on research that matters, and with our health and research system working together to do what it takes to make a difference.