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Media Release

Funding for emerging researchers prepares workforce for future health challenges

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Dr Alice Rogan

Dr Alice Rogan, awarded a Clinical Research Training Fellowship.

New Zealand’s most promising emerging researchers have been awarded $11.3 million to undertake high-quality research and develop the skills to address current and future health challenges.

Associate Research, Science and Innovation Minister, Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall, today announced the results of the Health Research Council of New Zealand’s annual Career Development Awards.

Comprising a wide range of scholarships and fellowships, the awards support Māori and Pacific researchers across the career spectrum to build the knowledge, methodologies and solutions to meet our population’s diverse needs. The awards include advanced post-doctoral fellowships to support future research leaders, as well as clinical fellowships to help frontline clinicians build evidence-based practice and policies in the healthcare sector.

“To produce excellent health research that addresses the needs of all New Zealanders, we need excellent health researchers with a diversity of skills and perspectives,” says HRC Chief Executive, Professor Sunny Collings.

She notes that these awards continue to attract health professionals from all disciplines into the research sphere, enabling them to gain research training and put that knowledge into health services, practices and policies for the benefit of all New Zealanders. “And this year, in response to a gap in the workforce, we’ve introduced clinical research training fellowships specific to Māori clinicians looking to advance their research careers.”

This year’s funded researchers and projects include the following:

Dr Nina Dickerhof, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Otago (Christchurch) Centre for Free Radical Research, has been awarded a $600,000 postdoctoral fellowship to find new ways to diagnose and treat chronic and infectious respiratory diseases, focusing on the role played by oxidants produced by the immune system.

With respiratory illnesses among the top three causes of deaths worldwide, she believes this research could bring significant health benefits. “The Covid-19 pandemic has brought infectious lung disease to the forefront of people’s minds, but even prior to the pandemic, respiratory diseases, both infectious and chronic, were cause for concern in New Zealand.” In 2018 alone, they claimed almost 3000 deaths.

“With the emergence of antibiotic resistance, bacterial infections will become increasingly difficult to treat and pose one of the biggest threats to global health.”

Dr Dickerhof says a better approach to treating respiratory diseases is needed, which will significantly decrease the burden on the health system and on individuals’ lives. Her research will provide novel insights into how the immune system fights invading pathogens and may reveal new therapeutic targets. She also intends to find markers of oxidative tissue damage that can help identify the presence of inflammation in the lungs.

Ms Cara Meredith, Clinical Lead for a Kaupapa Māori maternal mental health pilot at Te Puawaitanga ki Ōtautahi Trust, has received a Māori Health Clinical Research Training Fellowship to support her PhD research into Kaupapa Māori approaches for improving maternal mental health outcomes for Māori māmā.

In Aotearoa, mental health statistics show Māori wāhine experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and maternal suicide. The impact on tamariki begins early, says Meredith. “For example, antenatal depression is linked to low birth-weight and intrauterine growth restriction. Postnatal depression affects the health and wellbeing of pēpi in multiple ways and is also thought to be linked to sudden unexpected death in infancy – rates of which are higher amongst Māori whānau.”

She adds it is widely accepted that maternal mental illness has long-standing effects not only on the current generation of māmā and whānau, but adversely affects the future whakapapa, having negative and lasting impacts on a child’s emotional, cognitive and social development. “It is, therefore, an absolute priority for both our current and future generations that we intervene early.”

Her research, supported by the Māori and Indigenous Health Institute at the University of Otago, follows recent recommendations to improve maternal mental health services and ensure they are culturally appropriate and responsive to wāhine Māori. “A kaupapa Māori service that specifically addresses maternal mental health, using a trauma-informed approach, will directly work towards improving the health and wellbeing of pēpi, māmā and whānau,” she says.

Dr Letava Tafuna'i, a GP, Professional Practice Fellow with the Centre for Pacific Health, and Associate Dean (Pacific) at the University of Otago’s Dunedin School of Medicine has been awarded a Pacific Health Master's Scholarship to assess the knowledge, attitudes and practices of Samoans and Samoan healthcare workers towards the COVID-19 vaccine. She aims to describe differences between study participants in both New Zealand and Samoa, in terms of vaccination acceptance and reluctance.

“Such information will be crucial for public health stakeholders and ensuring vaccine roll-out efficacy,” says Dr Tafuna’i.

With the recent measles epidemic in Samoa claiming 83 lives, mostly due to a low vaccination rate for the measles vaccine, Dr Tafuna’i hopes her research can enhance current vaccination campaigns to Samoan communities and serve as a precursor to robust pharmacovigilance systems which are necessary with every vaccine roll-out.

Dr Alice Rogan (pictured), Emergency Medicine Registrar at Wellington Regional Hospital and Research Fellow at the University of Otago (Wellington), has been awarded a Clinical Research Training Fellowship to investigate the use of blood biomarkers to improve the clinical pathways for patients who present to ED with traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Traumatic brain injuries can span from mild (concussion) to severe (brain bleeding or swelling), and doctors must decide who is at risk of more severe injuries and warrants a CT head scan. This can be difficult, particularly in people with severe concussion or intoxication. Demand for CT head scans is also increasing due to an increasing population, says Dr Rogan. This can lead to patients waiting longer for results or facing treatment delays which can lead to poorer patient outcomes.

This project proposes that blood biomarkers could be used as a screening tool to exclude more severe injuries and support doctors' decision-making. This could reduce the rates of head scans performed, improve quality of care, and reduce a patient’s length of stay in ED.

Dr Rogan says certain blood biomarkers are being used in a few hospitals in Europe, but there isn’t evidence to support their wider use in Emergency Departments internationally, particularly in New Zealand where we have a different ​healthcare model and different clinical pathways. New Zealand also has significant population differences compared to countries that have so far tested these biomarkers. “We’re looking to see if these blood proteins have a beneficial health impact for Kiwis as a rule-out test in TBI, so that people without severe injuries can be quickly identified as not requiring a CT scan. If found to be reliable, the impact for future clinical practice is expansive.”

See below for the full list of 2022 Career Development Awards recipients, divided into three categories: General, Māori Health Research, and Pacific Health Research. For lay summaries of research proposals, visit our Research Repository.

2022 Career Development Awards

General category

Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship

Dr Daniel Conole, The University of Auckland
Next-generation high-throughput screening for smart drug discovery
48 months, $597,136

Dr Nina Dickerhof, University of Otago, Christchurch
Immune system-derived oxidants in the treatment and diagnosis of respiratory disease
48 months, $599,995

Dr Mickey Fan, The University of Auckland
Elucidating the effects of nitric oxide and argon on cerebral haemodynamics
48 months, $472,672

Dr Matthew McNeil, University of Otago
Dysregulating metabolism to eradicate drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis
48 months, $582,826

Dr Stuti Misra, The University of Auckland
Corneal nerves in health and diabetes: from young children to young adults
48 months, $598,454

Clinical Research Training Fellowship

Dr Joshua Chang, The University of Auckland
Unravelling autonomic control in heart failure with preserved ejection fraction
36 months, $260,000

Dr Phillip Chao, The University of Auckland
Minimally invasive upper gastrointestinal and hepatopancreaticobillary surgery
36 months, $260,000

Charlotte Greer, University of Otago, Christchurch
Novel applications of cardiac CT to enhance assessment of coronary disease
36 months, $251,000

Dr James Jin, The University of Auckland
Optimising recovery after excisional haemorrhoidectomy
12 months, $86,667

Dr Joevy Lim, The University of Auckland
Ocular Melanocytic Lesions – A nationwide Aotearoa/New Zealand study
36 months, $260,000

Ms Zara Mansoor, University of Otago, Wellington
Evaluating a parenting intervention for adolescents in mental health services
30 months, $245,356

Dr Peter McLeod, University of Otago
Pressure reduction in Moderate Aortic Stenosis (PUMAS)
36 months, $260,000

Dr Thomas Mules, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research
The effect of chronic hookworm infection on intestinal barrier function
24 months, $180,524

Dr Mike Nicholls, Auckland DHB Charitable Trust
Improving ED workforce wellbeing with insider-led quality improvement
48 months, $260,000

Dr Katherine Richards, University of Otago, Christchurch
Finding the fit – Haemodialysis vascular access that meets patient priorities
48 months, $259,230

Dr Alice Rogan, University of Otago, Wellington
Biomarkers and their relationship to traumatic brain injuries – The BRAIN Study
36 months, $146,673

Dr Kai Sheng Saw, The University of Auckland
Triaging symptomatic patients with faecal immunochemical test for bowel cancer
24 months, $172,200

Dr Shekhar Sehgal, Hawke's Bay District Health Board
The role of wearable technology in the management of Type 1 Diabetes
24 months, $165,695

Dr Amanda Taylor, The University of Auckland
PSGN in New Zealand children
36 months, $259,500

Dr Cameron Wells, The University of Auckland
Quantifying and optimising postoperative recovery using wearable sensors
36 months, $260,000

Clinical Practitioner Research Fellowship

Dr Lynn Sadler, Auckland DHB Charitable Trust
Clinical Practitioner Research Fellowship
60 months, $892,380

Professor Paul Young, Capital and Coast District Health Board
Oxygen therapy in critically ill adults
60 months, $1,031,753

Māori Health Research Career Development Awards

Rangahau Hauora Training Grant

Dr Tepora Emery, Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology
Māori positive ageing in place
6 months, $12,000

Ms Waitiahoaho Emery, Ngati Pikiao Iwi Trust
Ma wai e to taku kauae ki uta
12 months, $12,000

Māori Health Development Grant

Mrs Monica Mercury, The Family Centre
Oranga Kaumātua - Development Grant
6 months, $10,000

Dr Dianne Wepa, Auckland University of Technology
Reconnecting for Māori in a Post COVID-19 world
12 months, $9,008

Māori Health Knowledge Translation Grant

Ms Waitiahoaho Emery, Ngati Pikiao Iwi Trust
Koeke - a ko ake nei: Intergenerational positive ageing for Ngati Pikiao people
6 months, $5,000

Māori Health Summer Studentship

Miss Tori Diamond, McDonald Sporle Ltd
A data & literature review of Stats NZ's surveys for Māori wellbeing, Te Kupenga
3 months, $5,000

Mr Leon Harris, University of Otago
Kaitiaki experiences of adolescence care following sports injury
3 months, $5,000

Miss Jessica Siesicki, Research Trust of Victoria University of Wellington
Synthesis of fluorescently labelled ligands for therapeutic applications
3 months, $5,000

Miss Ricki Steiner Taepa, The University of Auckland
Corneal nerve microstructure in a paediatric population
3 months, $5,000

Mieka Taylor, University of Otago
Perceptions of caregivers of Māori children attending Māori-centred childcare
3 months, $5,000

Miss Eulalie Turner, The University of Auckland
Investigating the barriers to re-connection to whakapapa, hapū and iwi for hauora Māori
2 months, $5,000

Miss Tali Wilson-Munday, University of Otago
Implementation of Tikanga Māori into clinical practice by Physiotherapy graduate
3 months, $5,000

Māori Health Master's Scholarship

Ms Elisabeth Dacker, University of Otago
The effects of urinary incontinence on Māori women's health and wellbeing
12 months, $31,600

Miss Grace Davies, University of Otago
Māori attitudes towards vaccination in Aotearoa New Zealand
24 months, $32,400

Mr Brendon McIntosh, The University of Auckland
Stakeholder views on the Pharmacist Minor Ailment Service and access equity
24 months, $32,127

Mr Neil Rogers, Auckland University of Technology
Mana Whenua Ahi Kā
12 months, $28,748

Māori Health PhD Scholarship

Mr Callum August, University of Otago
Combatting Mate Kohi (Tuberculosis) on the home front
36 months, $131,850

Mr Ririwai Fox, Research Trust of Victoria University of Wellington
An exploration of Māori cultural embeddedness
18 months, $67,440

Ms Kiri Parata, Whakauae Research Services
Hoki ki te ūkaipō-whenua & hauora: an exploration of whānau, whenua & restoration
48 months, $131,475

Mrs Daysha Tonumaipe'a, Auckland University of Technology
Food Havens: the role of social enterprise in creating healthy food environments
36 months, $128,513

Māori Health Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr Nikki Renall, Massey University
Mātauranga kai
36 months, $346,984

Ms Aroaro Tamati, Te Pou Tiringa Incorporated
He Piki Toroa – Intervention to improve health outcomes and equity
48 months, $505,759

Māori Health Clinical Training Fellowship

Ms Cara Meredith, University of Otago, Christchurch
Kaupapa Māori approaches to maternal mental health
36 months, $263,405

Mrs Bobbie-Jo Pene, The University of Auckland
Applying a Māori-centred relational model to fundamental care
36 months, $265,000

Pacific Health Research Career Development Awards

Pacific Health Knowledge Translation Grant

Dr Apo Aporosa, University of Waikato
Kava and driving: Aiding driver safety through language-friendly mediums
6 months, $5,000

Pacific Health Summer Studentship

Miss Caitlin Bland, University of Otago, Christchurch
Audit of implementation of single-dose rifampicin chemoprophylaxis for leprosy
3 months, $5,000

Miss Peyton Fields, University of Otago
Natural products of Samoan medicinal plants
3 months, $5,000

Miss Fetuoleaniva Hunkin, University of Otago
Mai Mana – A Pacific Resilience Project
3 months, $5,000

Miss Julia Kayes, University of Otago, Christchurch
The breath of a mother: A review of Te Hā Waitaha Smokefree Pregnancy Incentive
3 months, $5,000

Miss Aislinn Reid, University of Otago
Medicine storage
3 months, $5,000

Pacific Health Master's Scholarship

Dr Letava Tafuna'i, University of Otago
Knowledge, attitudes and practices of Samoans towards the COVID-19 vaccine
24 months, $31,800

Pacific Health PhD Scholarship

Ms Joanna Minster, University of Otago, Wellington
Mental wellbeing, identity, and sense of belonging in Pacific peoples
36 months, $133,088

Mrs Daysha Tonumaipe'a, Auckland University of Technology
Food Havens: creating healthy food environments in addressing obesity
36 months, $126,513

Pacific Health Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr Edmond Fehoko, The University of Auckland
Pacific male perspectives on the strengths and harms of digital wellbeing
36 months, $404,444

Pacific Health Clinical Training Fellowship

Dr Sainimere Boladuadua, The University of Auckland
Improving access to care for sick children to reduce mortality and morbidity
36 months, $212,683

Mr Oka Sanerivi, University of Otago
Culturally responsive Physiotherapy approaches to working with Pacific families
28 months, $202,900