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- July 13, 2021 | 1:30 AM85 Park Road, Auckland 1023, New Zealand
- April 14, 2021 | 7:00 AM85 Park Road, Auckland 1023, New Zealand
- October 28, 2020 | 6:00 AM85 Park Road, Auckland 1023, New Zealand
- Emerging researcher returning to New Zealand to find link between breast cancer & obesity
Read more now in the latest AMRF newsletter. You can read about the progress of research and the researchers supported by donors like you including: Dr Emma Nolan's return to Auckland with an AMRF Douglas Goodfellow Repatriation Fellowship to enable her to establish a breast cancer research group. Early career researchers are at an exciting stage in their research development. Read more about them, including the outstanding recipient of an AMRF postdoctoral fellowship, Dr Arezoo Malihi. Click below to read and download the PDF newsletter Register now to hear more from Dr Emma Nolan at our free online event:
- Inspired by stem cells: fresh support for research from medical student's initiative
University student Mia Collins demonstrates her appreciation for the importance of medical research with her social enterprise, The Stem Shelves Club As a second year student in Health Sciences at the University of Auckland, Mia Collins has learned of the importance of research to health care. She hopes to enter medical school through the postgraduate route. "The Stem Shelves Club is a small account/business that I've decided to run alongside my studies, and with every plant I sell, I donate 20% of the profits." Research is a key factor when it comes to medicine because it helps discover new cures, preventions as well as understand why there are major public health issues. By selling plants propagated from cuttings, Mia has found a personally meaningful way for her hobby to support her favourite causes. "We can't wait to see how this grows." Join Mia on social media to learn more about how you can help support her and medical research. Instagram: The Stem Shelves Club Facebook: The Stem Shelves Club
- Researchers offered $1.36m rescue package
Auckland Medical Research Foundation fast-tracks emergency Covid-19 Relief funds The Auckland Medical Research Foundation (AMRF) is launching a $1.36million emergency Covid-19 Relief Fund, to ensure research projects impacted by the pandemic can recover from months of Auckland’s extended lockdowns. The pandemic has caused major disruptions for researchers kept out of their laboratories and unable to work for 190 days during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns. They now need additional support to pay salaries to complete their work. “Auckland Medical Research Foundation is the first medical research funding body that we know of in New Zealand to do this. As the country’s largest independent research funder, we see it as imperative to support the researchers we are investing in, to ensure their work reaches fruition,” Sue Brewster, AMRF executive director, says. “We have identified 73 projects funded by AMRF that were affected and are now significantly stalled due to Covid. “One particular group of researchers who have been severely impacted by these lockdowns are those who rely on salaries largely covered by donor-funded research grants contestable research grants. To be awarded this funding, researchers must prove their research is of significant importance and quality, and the AMRF is a major provider of these funds. “These are a wide range of projects including cancers, neurologic diseases such as Alzheimer's, heart disease, population health and paediatrics. Without additional funds to cover salaries, this work is at risk,” Brewster says. “This is a crisis for the Auckland research community. While we have been able to give them time-only extensions to try to complete their research, their salaries are also now running out. They are well behind where they should be at in completing their research.” Eligible researchers can apply for the equivalent of three to six months’ of the grant’s total salary component under the Covid-19 Relief Fund, depending on if their grant was active during the lockdowns. The grants are either for two year postdoctoral fellowships and projects, or three-year doctoral scholarships and medical research fellowships. Professor Larry Chamley’s two-year investigation into what triggers preeclampsia was delayed by the inability to get into the laboratory and source up to 50 human placentas for intended to be tested within hours of delivery, while hospitals had strict isolation rules in place. The Professor of Reproductive Biology and Reproductive Immunology and Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Chamley is the Director of the Hub for Extracellular Investigations (HEVI) at the University of Auckland now needs to find six months’ salary for his highly-skilled technician to carry out the work. “Our processes take time to set up so for every month that we were out of the lab, there was a month at the beginning and a month at the end where we also lost work,” Chamley says. “The consequence for the women and babies of New Zealand is that we are no closer to understanding the cause of this life-threatening disease that affects five percent of pregnant young women and their babies.” Dr Julie Lim is researching strategies that could be used to prevent or delay the onset of cataracts, the leading cause of blindness. She is also funded for two years by the AMRF and had already received a time extension to complete the project after the 2020 lockdown. The Senior Lecturer in the Molecular Vision Laboratory in the university’s Department of Physiology is “incredibly disappointed” that the momentum of her work was derailed. “The stop-start nature of these lockdowns has really impacted our research and researchers. We were not able to access donor tissue from the hospital so we have to postpone these until next year. It will directly impact my ability to publish two papers I might get from this study and hinder the career advancement of my junior post-doctoral research fellow and also slow down progress towards the development of anti-cataract therapies for our rapidly ageing and diabetic population.” The fund has been fast-tracked so that applications will open shortly and it is anticipated the money will be awarded as soon as possible in 2022. It follows the AMRF providing $505,000 for seven Covid-related research projects in 2020. “We have a built a reputation for being a significant provider of contestable funding and the opportunity for researchers to leverage further investment, often being the catalyst for researchers going on to secure larger grants from the likes of the Health Research Council. If their work faces further delays, they may not be at a stage where they can apply for other monies, stalling projects and careers even further.” Click here to request further information.
- I am curious | Auckland Medical Research Foundation
I'm curious to see if we can detect and treat dementia much earlier in life Imagine that you are diagnosed with dementia. You’re told it will progressively deprive you of your ability to think, your personality, and your independence. Now imagine the doctor says your condition could have been treated if it was diagnosed 10 years earlier, but the damage to your brain now is too extensive. An Auckland researcher has just been granted $200,000 to further the quest to identify dementia years or decades before clinical diagnosis, with the hope that early intervention is possible. “We’re trying to find a way to determine who is in the very early stages of dementia before they have any of these clinical symptoms,” Dr Brigid Ryan explains. “Then potential treatments that come along, or that already exist, could be trialled in those people. “Treatments have been tested on humans and failed. Possibly we’re just giving them too late in the disease. If we were able to give that treatment 10 or 20 years earlier, then maybe those treatments might actually be helpful.” Dr Ryan has been awarded an Auckland Medical Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, and her team of 11 at the University of Auckland are the world’s first to have long-term access to an Auckland family that has a rare form of early-onset dementia that manifests as young as in their mid 50s. Aware that dementia ran in the family and wanting to help future generations, when the matriarch passed away she donated her brain to the Centre for Brain Research. Medical researchers identified that her frontotemporal dementia was caused by a genetic mutation traced back to Wales in 1300AD and is shared by 27 other families around the world. The prevalence of frontotemporal dementia is second only to early-onset Alzheimer’s in those with dementia aged 45-65. Her children have a 50/50 chance of getting it. Four of her six siblings and her father had it. There are more than 25 children in the next generation, with another two generations below them. Who carries the genetic mutation is not divulged. “We’re working with 24 people, aged between 25 and 59. By testing for the gene, we can identify people who are perfectly healthy today, that we know in 10, 20 or 30 years are definitely going to develop dementia,” Dr Ryan says. “The family members who carry the gene that are in that older age group are probably quite close to developing the disease. These are the people in whom you can actually tell that they’re going to develop dementia much earlier than they develop clinical symptoms. We’re trying to look for potential tests that we could do which identify the really early stages of dementia.” Dr Ryan’s work with this family is internationally unprecedented, as no other researchers in the world have had access to families who have the gene mutation, instead working with smaller groups of unrelated people. The research requires the family to undergo annual tests at the university including neuropsychological assessments of their thinking abilities to look for any subtle changes. They test their sense of smell, as there is evidence it is affected early in other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Eye exams look for changes in the retina and blood tests are conducted to look for any markers that could lead to a diagnostic blood test that determines the risk of dementia. Findings may also be beneficial for researching Alzheimer’s. With a grandmother who has dementia, Dr Ryan knows first-hand how difficult it is to see someone you love lose themselves to the condition, and is mindful it is much harder to see this happen earlier in life. “It is all so much more affecting for these people, because they’re still bringing up children, and still have jobs. It has much more of a profound impact on them. “Working with this family is really motivating. It’s hard to come to terms with knowing the people you are getting to know are eventually going to be struck by this disease. But having a personal connection makes it much easier to understand just how profoundly affecting dementia is. “Whenever any of us spend time with the family we come back to work just buzzing to carry on. It’s really valuable having their input and knowing, together, we are working on something that could help inform earlier detection and treatment of dementia and ultimately enhance a person’s future quality of life.” Dr Ryan tempers that by saying an analogy she heard is that current dementia treatment is like trying to stub out a match when the forest fire has already been lit. “We need to stop the fire from being lit in the first place.” Being able to research this family gives the team the best chance yet of making a positive difference. However the longevity of the project relies solely on funding. Dr Ryan estimates half her time is spent in the lab, the other half sees her co-ordinating the team and applying for more research funding. “Sometimes that’s just passed off as strange behaviour when you get a bit older,” Dr Ryan says. “But it quickly becomes apparent that it’s more serious than that. “It’s really vital to have this support from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation. We really want to follow this family for as many years as we can as we are in the unique position of working with them long-term, seeing the ongoing changes that happen as the disease progresses and relating this back to more effective detection and treatment of dementia. “The Foundation is providing more than just funding, they are providing hope for the future.” Here at Auckland Medical Research Foundation, our timeless mission is to ‘fund world-class medical research that provides genuine advances in medical and health science’. We support medical researchers to find cures, help prevent or delay the onset of disease, ease the pain of those with debilitating conditions and provide more effective treatments. To find out about the very latest in medical research, like Dr Ryan’s, sign up here to receive our communications and newsletters.
- I am curious | Auckland Medical Research Foundation
I'm curious to see if soil will provide the world's next new anti-biotic Antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing public health issues of modern times. Antibiotics are needed to combat bacterial infections, but an arms race between humans and bacteria sees an increasing number of bacteria surviving treatment with our current antibiotics, leading to the emergence of ‘superbugs’ that are difficult or impossible to treat. Every year 700,000 people die of resistant infections – a truly shocking figure. “Resistant infections are difficult to treat, and require costly and sometimes toxic medications. Despite the urgent demand for new antibiotics, the antibiotic pipeline has failed to keep pace with the escalation of drug-resistance, with only nine new antibiotics approved between 2005 and 2014.” Ghader’s research is focused on finding new targets and processes in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. The collaborative project brings together a team of talented researchers from the University of Auckland, Auckland City Hospital and a Chinese research group, with the aim of developing an effective technology to produce large quantities of a newly-discovered compound that shows promising antibacterial properties. “We are excited, as we can show that this antibiotic outperforms current ‘last resort’ antibiotics, however the amount that we can get from its natural source is very limited. The next step is to establish an innovative technology to produce these on a larger scale,” says the biochemist from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland. This platform technology will be of global interest, given the production of new antibiotics is urgently required worldwide. “New Zealand, just like any other country, is also at risk. The use and misuse of antimicrobial medicines, as well as international travel and trade, are the key drivers in the spread of resistance, leading to the increased morbidity and mortality in our community. That’s why we believe working on new generations of antibiotics is incredibly important.” Ghader has funding for two years from the AMRF, an investment that was integral to progressing his work. “We want to use pioneering methods to produce this antibiotic in the lab, that we hope will lead to creating a large number of antibiotics from this particular family. We have already proved that these work. The funding that we’ve obtained through AMRF is crucial to establish our cutting-edge methodologies.” The antibiotic the team has identified is produced by bacteria in soil, that “produces compounds that could kill other bacteria but not themselves,” Ghader says. “There are millions of bacteria competing against each other for the nutrients, and whatever they might need.” Born and raised in Iran, Ghader came to New Zealand in 2004 to do his PhD. He now lives in Auckland with wife, Zahra, and two Kiwi daughters, Sevin and Sevda. Ghader says the AMRF funding not only provides Kiwis a better chance in the fight against antimicrobial resistance, it also has the potential to make a global impact. In addition, the funding from the AMRF helps Ghader train the next generation of scientists in New Zealand. “Training and keeping talented young scientists in New Zealand is a priority for me; keeping our hard-working and innovative research thinkers here, retaining their amazing ideas and dedication to benefit New Zealand.” Here at Auckland Medical Research Foundation, our timeless mission is to ‘fund world-class medical research that provides genuine advances in medical and health science’. We support medical researchers to find cures, help prevent or delay the onset of disease, ease the pain of those with debilitating conditions and provide more effective treatments. To find out about the very latest in medical research, like Dr Bashiri's, sign up here to receive our communications and newsletters.
- I am curious | Auckland Medical Research Foundation
I'm curious to see if New Zealanders hold clues to any side-effects of worldwide prem baby medication It is a treatment given to pregnant women whose babies are at risk of being born premature. It has been used around the world for literally millions of expectant mothers for decades. Yet the long-term effects of antenatal corticosteroid exposure are unknown. Now New Zealand is leading world-first research into any possible detrimental outcomes for those babies. Corticosteroids are recommended for women at risk of preterm birth before 35 weeks – one in 12 babies are born before 37 weeks – to reduce potential breathing problems for the baby, and improve their likelihood of survival. New Zealand carried out the world’s first research to assess the effectiveness of corticosteroids between 1969-1974. It resulted in the treatment being adopted around the globe. But are there long-term side effects? Researcher Dr Anthony Walters is being funded by the Auckland Medical Research Foundation to assess if later in life there is a propensity for health issues or conditions not experienced by their peers. With the initial group of babies now in their fifties, this is the longest study of antenatal corticosteroid exposure in the world. “I was curious to know what this treatment that is used around the world, every day, is doing in the long term. If we were to find that there was a difference in any of these conditions, we would have the potential to screen people earlier. And if we don't find any difference, that gives a lot more confidence to people giving the treatment.” Walters describes antenatal corticosteroid exposure as “the gold-standard treatment”. It was pioneered by renowned New Zealand researcher Mont Liggins, to help mature baby's lungs. But at what unknown cost? “Having a medication or having something happen whilst you're in the womb can potentially have impacts on not only your health, but potentially the health of the next generation down,” Walters, 31, explains. “So we want to make sure that's not something that the steroid medication could be impacting on too.” This includes assessing any propensity for heart conditions and strokes, bone health and asthma. “We know that [in utero medication] can impact your behaviour as well so we're also looking at social aspects – depression, bipolar. And whether they're employed or not.” Just over 1100 mothers and 1200 babies were part of the original cohort and half had a placebo and a half had the steroid treatment. The cohort was followed up when they were 30, where there were some findings that could indicate a higher risk of developing diabetes as they got older. Type 2 diabetes is less prevalent at 30 than it would be for those in their fifties, making this an optimal time to reassess the group. The four-year project forms the endocrinology fellow’s PhD at the University of Auckland – but he has now been stalled by the Covid-19 pandemic, delaying his work by months, if not years. Lockdowns have prevented face-to-face assessments and being able to track people through their last known address. “That's something we couldn't really do at all during the lockdown times,” he says. “We work through NHI numbers and the electoral roll. Sometimes we're using Facebook, looking people up, helping us reach some people we couldn't track otherwise, people overseas for example.” The AMRF funding includes financial support for that face-to-face research. “Being able to dedicate my time to doing this and to focusing on the research itself, rather than constantly worrying where the next bit of money is coming from, that's invaluable,” he says. This project is one of more than 70 projects funded by AMRF that are now significantly stalled due to Covid-19. AMRF recognised the need for an emergency Covid-19 Relief Fund, to ensure research projects impacted by the pandemic can recover from months of Auckland’s extended lockdowns. The pandemic has caused major disruptions for researchers unable to work for 190 days during the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns. Walters says the team is utilising online avenues where possible, including data linkage where participants give permission for access to routinely collected information. For example, education details through the Ministry of Education. “The data linkage is a novel way of getting a lot of the information so that we can do a bit more without necessarily having to inconvenience people.” None of the research team know who received the steroid nor who is in the placebo until the end of the study, to ensure there is no bias. Previous researchers were able to reach just over 500 of the original 1200 and Walters wants anyone born pre-term at National Womens Hospital between 1969 and 1974 to contact the team via the Auckland Medical Research Foundation website, to ascertain if they were part of the original cohort. Think this is you? Click here to get in touch. “There's obviously going to be some people that might not necessarily know they were in the trial. But hearing from the people that are out there who were part of it, would be very useful.” Walters is cognisant that during a time when Covid-19 has caused so much turmoil, he has the security of funding for his work. “I am incredibly grateful to the AMRF for giving me the security of funding for the duration of my PhD programme, allowing me to really dedicate my time to undertaking this important research. “The travel grant will give me the invaluable opportunity to share some of this important research internationally, once travel is possible again, and the project expense funding will cover the costs of additional clinical and laboratory assessments to give us as complete a picture as possible of the long term effects of antenatal corticosteroids” Here at Auckland Medical Research Foundation, our timeless mission is to ‘fund world-class medical research that provides genuine advances in medical and health science’. We support medical researchers to find cures, help prevent or delay the onset of disease, ease the pain of those with debilitating conditions and provide more effective treatments. To find out about the very latest in medical research, like Dr Walter's, sign up here to receive our communications and newsletters.