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Massey Magazine Issue 13 November 2002

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$1.25m for health research

A $1.25m Health Research Council (HRC) Programme Grant for the University’s Centre for Public Health Research has ensured long-term funding for the centre, says the Director, Professor Neil Pearce. The grant, which will support the Centre’s core infrastructure as well as two major new projects, was announced last week.

“We are now formally recognised as a Programme by the Health Research Council, with support confirmed for the next three years, and possible renewals for another nine,” says Professor Pearce.

“This gets us on to the same status as the University’s other HRC Programme – Te Pümanawa Hauora, the Mäori Health Research Centre within the School of Mäori Studies.”

Previously, most HRC funding has gone to the Otago and Auckland University medical schools. Last week’s grant confirms Massey as also being a major player.

The Programme Grant application was supported by a number of research partners, including both Te Pümanawa Hauroa and the EpiCentre at Massey, the Malaghan Institute for Medical Research, Victoria University’s Health Services Research Centre and Environmental Sciences and Research (ESR).

“This represents an extensive collaboration with other institutions.”

The funding covers two new studies which will be a major focus for the centre’s research over the next few years, in addition to the Centre’s existing research projects in asthma, cancer, Mäori health and Pacific health.

“One study focuses on asthma rates in children living on farms. Over the past few years, research done by us and others has made it increasingly clear that a lot of asthma does not involve allergic mechanisms,” he says.

“There is increasing evidence that children and babies born on farms have a lower than usual risk of asthma, even though they’re exposed to lots of allergens. There is something about the farming environment that protects children and babies against developing asthma.

“We suspect that the answer is connected to the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ which suggests that asthma rates are climbing all over the world because we used to be exposed to a lot of bugs and infections that protected us against asthma. If we can work out why this happens, we might be able to develop ways to prevent getting asthma.”

The study is being done by Professor Pearce and Dr Jeroen Douwes at the CPHR, together with Dr Joanna McKenzie and Professor Roger Morris at Massey’s EpiCentre, Professor Graham Le Gros at the Malaghan Institute for Medical Research, and Dr Erika von Mutius from the University Children’s Hospital in Munich, Germany.

The other study is being conducted in collaboration with Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) and involves investigating occupational causes of bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukaemia and nasopharyngeal cancer in adult New Zealanders.

The study is being done by Professor Pearce, Dave McLean and Dr Jeroen Douwes from the CPHR, together with Dr Evan Dryson and Dr Chris Walls from OSH.

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