As part of recent HRC Programme funding led by Professor Peter Shepherd, Deputy Director of the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biology, investment in ground-breaking nationwide research into the potential links between people's genetics and their risk of developing metabolic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease has begun in partnership with two Māori research organisations – the recently opened Waharoa ki te Toi research facility – the Moko Foundation base at Kaitaia Hospital in the Far North; and Te Rangawairua o Paratene Ngata Research Centre – the Ngati Porou Hauora Charitable trust base at Te Puia Springs Hospital in Tairawhiti on the East Coast.
The research centres have been formed with the intention that they serve as a catalyst for growing sustainable research partnerships with local communities to co-design research to meet local priorities, to generate new knowledge and better health outcomes that empower Māori and Pacific people to live well and longer. A key part of the kaupapa to empower Māori communities is that the centres also deliver local employment opportunities, and build capacity for Māori students, practitioners and researchers to develop training in research skills of relevance to Māori and rural health.
The HRC works with the sector to identify critical gaps in career paths and support opportunities to address them. One such example is the 2018 Māori Emerging Leader Fellowship established in partnership with the Ministry of Health to ensure the growth and ongoing development of our Māori health research workforce. The fellowship currently supports two Māori health researchers, Dr Jason Gurney and Dr Reremoana Theodore (both University of Otago) to develop their Māori health research knowledge with a specific emphasis on equity and social investment.
Dr Jason Gurney (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine) started his academic journey with an HRC Māori Health Summer Studentship award back in 2004, and says the financial support that the HRC grants offer along the career pathway (including a Māori PhD Scholarship and Eru Pōmare Māori Health Postdoctoral Fellowship) have been essential to building his portfolio of research confronting disparities in health outcomes between Māori and non-Māori.
Dr Gurney now sits on the Ministry of Health Urological Cancers working group and Tumour Standards working group, as well as being an elected member of the Board of Hei Āhuru Mōwai (the National Māori Cancer Leadership Group), established to ensure Māori experience high-quality, equitable cancer services.
"Ever since 2004, the HRC Summer Studentship opened a new world to me - that it was possible to do this thing I loved [research] and actually get paid to do it. Everything I’ve done has been looking at health inequalities for Māori. Having that consistent funding opportunity made available through the HRC to support my development as a researcher has been absolutely critical,” he says.