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Links between active travel and health to be studied as part of $11.1M awarded to NZ researchers

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Dr Sandar Tin Tin, epidemiologist at The University of Auckland

The effects of ‘active travel’ on health conditions such as obesity, mental health, and cancer is about to be investigated by epidemiologist Dr Sandar Tin Tin from the University of Auckland (pictured).

Dr Tin Tin has just been awarded a $600,000 research fellowship from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) as part of an $11.1 million suite of Career Development Awards announced today. These awards help launch research careers through a wide range of master’s and PhD scholarships and help develop research leaders through advanced postdoctoral fellowships. They also support frontline clinicians to undertake research that will improve the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders while addressing critical gaps in the research workforce.

Dr Tin Tin’s research will build on related research she’s been undertaking into physical activity, sedentary behaviours and breast cancer risk (work that’s also funded by an HRC fellowship, based at the University of Oxford). Her new research programme will focus specifically on transport modes (walking, cycling, public transport, and car use) and any observed links or improvements to serious chronic health conditions as well as underlying biological mechanisms and environmental influences.

“We know physical activity plays a part in preventing non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, improving overall wellbeing, reducing mental health symptoms, and enhancing cognitive performance,” says Dr Tin Tin.

“However, many people are not sufficiently active.” She notes that a third of New Zealanders do not meet the World Health Organization recommendation of at least 150 - 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 - 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week.

Active modes of transport, such as walking or cycling, represent a relatively simple way of incorporating exercise into daily life that is more likely to be well adopted and sustained than exercise programmes, she says. Active travel provides several benefits, yet there is limited evidence to date of its effect on specific health conditions – physical, mental, and cognitive – and underlying mechanisms.

Using her experience in health data linkage and pooling of large datasets, Dr Tin Tin will analyse data from the UK Biobank (one of the world’s largest medical research databases) and Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) as well as data from the Taupo Bicycle Study, to produce association estimates that are as reliable and generalisable as possible.

“The findings will be of high relevance to the population of New Zealand – one of the most car-dependent countries in the world – and particularly to Māori who suffer a disproportionate burden of many health conditions.”

Dr Tin Tin hopes her research will inform public health guidelines on physical activity, which rarely mention lower-intensity activity such as walking to work, due to the lack of robust evidence on its health benefits.

The HRC’s chief executive, Professor Sunny Collings, says this research addresses several research priorities, including the need to reduce obesity and increase physical activity, as well as the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand – much of these produced by reliance on private vehicles.

“Physical inactivity is a global public health problem, so this research could fill an important knowledge gap and be immediately applicable to how we live and the day-to-day choices we make.”

The HRC’s annual Career Development Awards are key to bolstering and sustaining Aotearoa New Zealand’s health research workforce. Fifty-two researchers across the country will benefit from the $11.1 million awarded in this round.

See below for the full list of recipients, divided into three categories: Māori Health Research, Pacific Health Research, and a General category focused on clinical and postdoctoral career development. For lay summaries of research proposals, visit our Research Repository:

Recipients of the 2023 Career Development Awards

Māori Health Research Career Development Awards

Māori Health PhD Scholarship

Miss Emily Bain, University of Otago
The inequities of the NASC system in Aotearoa and the experience of Māori whānau
36 months, $138,800

Mr Jonathan Martin, University of Otago
Mamaku: ethnobiology and use as a novel intraoral medicament – an in vitro study
30 months, $190,133

Mr Mana Mitchell, University of Otago
Utilising mātauranga to guide biomedical research
36 months, $138,800

Miss Bailey Rose, Research Trust of Victoria University of Wellington
Understanding the experiences and needs of Māori with eating disorders
24 months, $95,939

Ms Stacey Ruru, Whakauae Research Services
Mō ngā uri whakatipu: Women leaders paving a pathway for future generations
36 months, $127,362

Māori Health Masters Scholarship

Miss Tori Diamond, The University of Auckland
Novel applications of the IDI for longitudinal analysis for the Māori population
12 months, $31,305

Miss Lena Kemp, Auckland University of Technology
Wāhine Māori experiences of recovery from addiction, a Kaupapa Māori perspective
12 months, $30,632

Miss Jordan Tane, Auckland University of Technology
Ko te mauri, he mea huna ki te Moana
12 months, $30,631

Māori Health Development Grant

Dr Ben O'Keeffe, oDocs Eye Care
A novel approach to keratoconus screening and treatment programme in New Zealand
12 months, $10,000

Māori Health Clinical Training Fellowship

Dr Reece Joseph, The University of Auckland
Biofilm infections’ impact on Māori with osteomyelitis as a central focus
18 months, $135,000

Mrs Eillish-Kate Satchell, The University of Auckland
Emergency ambulance care in out-of-hospital deaths: Whānau experience
36 months, $265,000

Māori Health Summer Studentship

Miss Emily Bain, University of Otago
Māori experiences of the InterRAI interviews
3 months, $7,500

Ms Kendall Coker, University of Otago
An exploratory qualitative study with Maori whānau experiences with ROPEE
5 months, $7,500

Mr Ihaia Kendrew, University of Otago
Pathways to health for Māori meatworkers and their whānau
3 months, $7,500

Mr Flynn Macredie, University of Otago
Interventions to improve maternal immunisation coverage in Aotearoa
3 months, $7,500

Miss Awhina Pearce, The University of Auckland
Identifying unique histological features in brain tumours from Māori patients
3 months, $7,500

Māori Health Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr Joanna Hikaka, The University of Auckland
Māori experiences and expectations of kaumātua care
48 months, $666,431

Pacific Health Research Career Development Awards

Pacific Health Clinical Training Fellowship

Miss Leinasei Isno, University of Otago
Improving management, diagnosis and prevention of scrub typhus among Ni-Vanuatu
36 months, $260,000

Dr Melbourne Mauiliu-Wallis, The University of Auckland
Factors influencing career choices among Pacific doctors in Aotearoa
48 months, $173,000

Mr Suli Tuitaupe, University of Canterbury
Understanding the worldview of health from a Samoan New Zealander's perspective
36 months, $168,411

Pacific Health PhD Scholarship

Miss Bwenaua Biiri, University of Otago
Investigating metabolic disease in I-Kiribati
24 months, $94,050

Mr Ilai Elekana Manū, Massey University
Health benefits of fagatua indigenous Tokelau wrestling for Tokelauan youth
36 months, $133,550

Miss Janina Galewski, University of Waikato
Reducing the equity gap for Pacific peoples with diabetes
36 months, $124,550

Pacific Health Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr Falegau Melanie Lilomaiava Silulu, Auckland University of Technology
Is Tāmaki Makaurau an age-friendly and healthy place for Pacific people to age?
36 months, $388,938

Dr Troy Ruhe, University of Otago
Measuring research impact in Pacific Health Research
48 months, $430,102

Dr Hana Tuisano, Massey University
Cultural intelligence and cultural safety for Tokelau young people in Aotearoa
48 months, $465,085

Pacific Health Masters Scholarship

Miss Tekin Kanimako, The University of Auckland
I-Kiribati youth perspectives in health and wellbeing
24 months, $30,900

Pacific Health Knowledge Translation Grant

Mrs Litiuingi Ahio, Auckland University of Technology
Kupesi ‘o e Nofo ‘a Kainga
6 months, $5,000

Mrs Amio Matenga Ikihele, Moana Connect
DIGIFALE: A mobile literacy programme for Pacific communities – a pilot study
11 months, $5,000

Dr Soana Muimuiheata, Auckland University of Technology
Family wellbeing – Food and diabetes management
6 months, $5,000

Dr Soana Muimuiheata, Auckland University of Technology
Concept of Kato Polopola – Holistic approach to diabetes management
7 months, $5,000

Pacific Health Summer Studentship

Ms Beatrice Hessell, University of Otago
Pacific workplace wellbeing – perspectives from Pacific managers
3 months, $7,500

Mr Miguel Veilofia, University of Otago
Pathways to health for Pacific meat workers and their whānau
3 months, $7,500

Mr Cameron Young, University of Otago
Splice mutations in the TP53 gene and its drive in aggressive tumours
4 months, $7,500

General category:

Clinical Research Training Fellowship

Mr Patrick Cabasag, The University of Auckland
Co-design of a pharmacist-led mental health intervention for long-term condition patients
36 months, $260,000

Dr Florence de Roo, University of Otago
Investigating fibroblast influence on the gastric cancer microenvironment
36 months, $260,000

Mrs Grace Griffiths, University of Otago
Experiences of people receiving therapy for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
24 months, $171,990

Dr Briar Hunter, The University of Auckland
A national best practice guide for equity in preterm birth in Aotearoa
36 months, $260,000

Mr Andrew Kindon, University of Canterbury
Determinants of abdominal aortic aneurysm risk in New Zealand
36 months, $110,104

Dr Eileen McManus, Te Whatu Ora - Waikato
The Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) phenotype in Aotearoa/New Zealand
48 months, $260,007

Dr Alice Minhinnick, The University of Auckland
Understanding value in cancer molecular tests in Aotearoa
36 months, $260,000

Mr Connor Silvester, Auckland University of Technology
Mental health in elite athletes
36 months, $260,000

Dr Thomas Wilkinson, University of Otago
Assessment of fully automated insulin delivery technology in diabetes
36 months, $260,000

Ms Janice Yeoman, The University of Auckland
Scleral shell prosthesis practice in Aotearoa New Zealand
36 months, $259,800

Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship

Dr Mark Calcott, Research Trust of Victoria University of Wellington
Large-scale substitution approaches to engineer non-ribosomal peptides
48 months, $536,377

Dr Cristina Cleghorn, University of Otago
Modelling the health and equity impacts of a range of dietary policies in NZ
48 months, $600,000

Dr Matthias Fellner, University of Otago
Development of diagnostic fluorescence and ultrasound probes for S. aureus
72 months, $599,612

Dr Simon Jackson, University of Otago
A genomics-led approach to bacteriophage therapies for infectious disease
48 months, $596,423

Dr Angus Lindsay, University of Canterbury
Generating hypertension to prevent mortality in Duchenne muscular dystrophy
48 months, $599,966

Dr Julia Shanks, The University of Auckland
Developing novel treatments for HFpEF by studying vagal control of the heart
60 months, $571,138

Dr Sandar Tin Tin, The University of Auckland
Associations and mechanisms linking transport and health: outcome-wide analyses
48 months, $599,983

Clinical Practitioner Research Fellowship

Dr Tanith Alexander, Te Whatu Ora - Counties Manukau
Nutrition, growth and outcomes of moderate-late preterm babies
60 months, $469,667