In 2020, AMRF called for applications for Covid-19 research projects costing up to a maximum of $100,000, from an initial investment of $500,000. The fund focused solely on biomedical, clinical and population-health research, specifically investigating COVID-19, its impact and outcomes.
AMRF aimed to fund a wide range of research covering focus areas such as bio-medical studies and identifying new treatments through to studies exploring the societal impacts of the lockdown.
This fund was created in addition to the Foundation’s average of more than $3.5 million – granted annually for a wide range of medical research each year – including dementia, cancers, stroke treatments, antibiotic development, heart health and youth mental health.
COVID-19 WELLBEING APP ($98,281 - 12 months) 1720008
Dr Anna Serlachius, Dr Hiran Thabrew, Nic Cao, Ms Eva Morunga, Dr Alana Cavadino
Dept. of Psychological Medicine, The University of Auckland
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, young people in New Zealand experienced significant mental health issues and the worst youth suicide rate among OECD nations. Recent stresses related to rapid lockdown, physical isolation, disrupted academic routines and financial insecurity are likely to exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues and to generate new ones, especially anxiety and depression. Now, more than ever, young people need to develop skills to maintain their wellbeing and build resilience through the coming months. As young people aged 16-30 years living in New Zealand are primarily digital natives with good cell-phone access, a prototype app, called ‘Whitu’, or ‘7 ways in 7 days’, has been developed for them by researchers at the University of Auckland and Auckland District Health Board. The easily disseminable app includes seven modules that can be completed within a week to learn evidence-based coping skills such as relaxation, gratitude and mindfulness. Preliminary assessment of a basic prototype is underway, including with young people of Māori and Pacific Island ethnicity, and now formal evaluation of the minimally viable app is planned via an AMRF-funded randomised controlled trial.
NURSE WELLBEING DURING COVID-19 ($31,494 - 12 months) 4720010
Dr Matthew Roskruge, Dr Margaret Brunton, Dr Catherine Cook
Massey Business School, Massey University
Our nurses are essential to the success of our health system and response to COVID-19. While New Zealand is not yet facing the catastrophic pressure felt overseas, nurses are working on the front lines and experiencing the risks and vulnerabilities to themselves and their whanau. This can have serious consequences such as anxiety and depression, harming nurse wellbeing and undermining our health system at a time of need. This research will directly address workforce sustainability by investigating the impact COVID-19 has on nurse wellbeing in the Auckland region and identifying resilience strategies which can be deployed by nurses, their employers and organizations which support them. To achieve this, data on wellbeing are collected through online surveying to identify patterns resulting from the pandemic. These data are then complemented with interviews exploring themes identified in the survey, focusing on sustainability strategies and opportunities to intervene to improve wellbeing. The research will have an impact not only in the science community, but also for our largest health workforce by informing the development of support strategies during this and future crises, directly contributing to a better health system and improved outcomes for both nurses and the public they work tirelessly to support.
MENTAL HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF THE COVID-19 LOCKDOWN ($81,878 - 12 months) 1720006
Associate Professor Danny Osborne, Professor Chris Sibley, Dr Lara Greaves
School of Psychology, The University of Auckland
Although necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19, the mental health consequences of New Zealand’s nationwide lockdown are unknown. The current proposal will address this oversight by comparing nationally representative data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study collected in the months before New Zealand’s first known case of COVID-19 with new data obtained in the 12 weeks during and after the initial nationwide lockdown (Study 1), as well as a year later (Study 2). Accordingly, we will examine both the short- and long-term mental health consequences of the unprecedented lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19. Results will provide critical insights into the psychological wellbeing of New Zealanders while under lockdown, and help to identify populations at risk of developing mental health problems while the nation fights to contain the spread of COVID-19. Because New Zealand and other countries across the globe are likely to move between various degrees of lockdown until a vaccine is developed, understanding how lockdowns affect public mental health is necessary in order to effectively develop targeted interventions for those who are most psychologically vulnerable to prolonged periods of self-isolation.
In March 2022, the AMRF Covid-19 Relief Fund provided an additional $14,301.
SOCIAL CONNECTEDNESS AMONG OLDER PEOPLE DURING COVID-19 ($98,257 - 12 months) 1720005
Professor Merryn Gott, Dr Tatiana Tavares, Ms Louise Rees, Dr Tess Moeke-Maxwell, Associate Professor Janine Wiles, Ms Tessa Morgan, Dr Lisa Williams
School of Nursing, The University of Auckland
People over 70 have been identified as the group most vulnerable to Covid-19 with specific restrictions imposed on their activities. The media has characterised this group as passive and in need of protection. However, their diverse views and experiences of the lockdown are unknown. This information is critical to informing current – and future – public health responses to this ongoing pandemic situation. In this study we will explore the impact of the government response to Covid-19 on people aged >70 years through: 1) in-depth interviews exploring the experiences of a culturally-diverse group of the most socially isolated and lonely older New Zealanders; 2) the creation of a national archive of letters and photographs from older New Zealanders describing and illustrating their experience of the pandemic and articulating what strategies they have used, and barriers they have faced, to remaining socially connected; 3) an analysis of how the media have represented older people within the context of the pandemic; and 4) a service provider survey. Our partners in the project - Age Concern New Zealand - will use findings to inform their pandemic response and we will use creative methods to promote further impact.
Funded by: AC Horton Estate
ANTIVIRAL THERAPEUTICS AND DEVELOPMENT PLATFORM FOR COVID-19 ($74,470 - 12 months) 1720013
Dr Daniel Furkert, Professor Vernon Ward, Mr Dan Fellner, Dr Sung Yan, Associate Professor Paul Harris
School of Chemical Sciences, The University of Auckland
Antiviral drugs alongside an effective vaccine are essential for long-term clinical management of COVID19. This project will leverage our existing antiviral drug discovery collaboration to rapidly generate and assay a set of lead compounds against SARS CoV-2 main protease. Compounds will be designed using a combination of molecular docking and state-of-art molecular dynamics for development of novel therapeutic agents for clinical treatment of COVID-19.
In March 2022, the AMRF Covid-19 Relief Fund provided an additional $14,240.
COVID-19 AND INTERRAI RESEARCH ($27,100 - 12 months) 1720014
Dr Gary Cheung, Dr Etuini Ma'u, Dr Claudia Rodriguez, Mr Adrian Martinez Ruiz, Professor Vanessa Burholt, Dr Brigid Ryan
Psychological Medicine, The University of Auckland
Older adults are the most at-risk group for COVID-19 infection. Self-isolation is likely to affect both formal and informal care and lead to loneliness, depression, accelerated functional and cognitive decline, and falls. Loneliness is a serious public health concern and a risk factor for premature mortality, poor physical and psychological wellbeing. interRAI Home Care is a comprehensive geriatric assessment mandated for all older New Zealanders assessed for publicly funded home support services and aged residential care. The interRAI population typically have physical illness and/or functional impairment. A NZ study found a high rate of loneliness (21%) among older adults assessed with the interRAI Home Care. It is likely that the interRAI population (~36,000 interRAI assessments per year) will experience further decline in their health and psychosocial well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. The objectives of this study are to (i) track the impact of COVID-19 on the health and psychosocial indicators of the interRAI population quarterly in the first year of COVID-19; (ii) compare these indicators with the same indicators in the year before COVID-19; and (iii) report these indicators publicly as soon as data analysis is completed every quarter.
SARS-COV-2 VIRUS ENTRY INHIBITORS ($96,457 - 12 months) 1720007
Distinguished Professor Dame Margaret Brimble, Dr Alan Cameron, Professor Miguel Quinones-Mateu, Mr Dan Fellner, Dr Allan Zhang, Dr Daniel Furkert, Associate Professor Paul Harris
School of Chemical Sciences, The University of Auckland
Given the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid development of a potent anti-SARS-CoV-2 therapeutic agent is imperative. It has been determined that SARS-CoV-2 makes its entry to human host cells by binding to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) on human cell surfaces via a spike protein. We will develop agents that will prevent virus cell entry by disrupting the key binding interaction between SARS-CoV-2 and the host cell. These new modalities provide a promising opportunity for the discovery of new antiviral drugs to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.