Researchers to tackle key health issues

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Professor Neil Pearce.

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Dr Lis Ellison-Loschmann.

University researchers will address the key public health issues affecting New Zealanders, with projects ranging from alcohol-related harm and cancers to occupational health. Six projects are to receive funding totalling $7.2 million from the Health Research Council’s annual funding round.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Research) Professor Nigel Long says the funding is an exceptional show of confidence in the ability of the University’s public health researchers.

“With the Centre for Pubic Health Research, the Sleep/Wake Research Centre and the Research Centre for Maori Health and Development in Wellington and the Centre for Social Health Outcomes Research Evaluation in Auckland, we now have a very significant cluster providing the answers to some of the most serious public health questions.

“New research ranges from that addressing the harms from alcohol to analysing the determinants of inequalities in breast cancer survival rates. The importance of strong public health research is twofold: it enables governments to better plan future health services and practitioners to better understand and treat existing issues.

“We are extremely proud of the contribution these researchers will make, improving the health and lives of New Zealanders.”

The University’s Centre for Public Health Research has been awarded $2.5 million for a three-year study of occupational health in New Zealand.

Professor Neil Pearce said the funding represented the first large grant for a full programme of research into occupational health.

“It is an area that has been neglected in the past in New Zealand,” he says. “These grants give a boost to us and our capacity to do world class occupational health research.”

The funding would give him the chance to train new researchers at the centre and to focus on areas of occupational health which had not previously been comprehensively studied in New Zealand.

Dr Lis Ellison-Loschmann, a member of Professor Pearce’s team, has also been awarded $2 million for two other projects focused on Maori health.

Dr Ellison-Loschmann has worked with the centre since 2000. She recently returned to New Zealand after spending two years with a world-class cancer research group in Barcelona, Spain as part of her post-doctoral study.

The grant, $1 million over three years, for research into breast cancer in Maori and Pacific Island women will allow an in-depth look into why these groups have lower survival rates than European women. A five-year grant of $1 million will allow Dr Ellison-Loschmann to look at stomach cancer in Maori, with the aim of finding out why Maori are five times more likely to get stomach-cancer than non-Maori.

Louise Ihimaera (Ngäti Porou, Ngäti Kahungunu, Whakatöhea) who is based at the University’s Research Centre for Mäori Health and Development has received a grant of $114,497 to look at Mäori whänau participation in mental health service delivery.

Ms Ihimaera says whänau have an important role to play in improving mental health service delivery, development and evaluation. She hopes that this PhD study will contribute significantly to recognition of the value of whänau participation in compulsory treatment and care situations that can lead to positive health outcomes.

She says the funding will provide an opportunity for whänau to share their stories and reinforce the importance of whänau or others closest to them as part of an individual's recovery journey. “Although some whänau lifestyles may have negative influence or impact on a whänau member experiencing serious mental health issues, many whänau are a positive influence and are often the unsung heroes of voluntary care.”

Other projects to receive funding are:
  • The Centre for Social Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation receives $853,355 to study the range and magnitude of alcohol’s harm to others.
  • The Department of Psychology receives $1,107,000 for work on popular understandings of medications and their use in everyday life.

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