Funding for innovative health research

Professor Nigel Grigg

Three Massey University researchers have been awarded a combined $450,000 to explore poverty and nutrition, tobacco dependence and performance measurement frameworks for health care.

Dr Geoffrey Kira and Dr Penelope Truman of the School of Public Health and Professor Nigel Grigg of the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, will each will receive $150,000 for up to 24 months of research as part of the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) Explorer Grants.

These grants are available in any health research discipline, provided they propose ideas considered transformative, innovative, exploratory or unconventional, and have potential for major impact.

College of Health Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane Mills says, “Massey University has a proud tradition of applied, translational research which these studies exemplify. We aim to make a difference to New Zealander's health and wellbeing, and reduce inequity by generating evidence for practice” says Professor Mills.”

Measuring hospitals

Professor Nigel Grigg and his team will apply a systemic approach to developing an improved Performance Measurement (PM) framework for New Zealand’s public hospitals.  

The Ministry of Health requires valid and reliable mechanisms for planning and monitoring the performance of the primary health organisations and public healthcare services. 

“Currently, outcome-driven PM frameworks are used by District Health Boards to measure performance against national targets. Although such frameworks are consistent and of value, they fail to adequately model the complex and systemic nature of healthcare operations. The research aims to study these systems qualitatively and in depth and then, using multivariate statistical modelling, develop a balanced PM framework that better models these operations in their context. 

“An improved PM framework will in turn produce more accurate measures, and thus will help in addressing current performance gaps.” 

The research aims to develop the balanced model that relates to public hospitals in New Zealand and their full range of systems.

Tobacco dependence

Dr Truman’s study seeks to better understand tobacco dependence to improve smoking cessation policies and practice.

“Nicotine does not act alone in causing tobacco dependence and we have discovered the most likely culprit – a specific inhibitor within the tobacco smoke. 

“This monoamine oxidase inhibitor was unlike any previously reported and could be the chemical that is partly responsible for the smoker reported positive effects of smoking on mood. We will complete the purification of this inhibitor, characterise it chemically and biochemically, and test its behavioural effect in an animal model of nicotine dependence to see if it is pharmacologically active.”

“The knowledge generated will be important for better understanding tobacco dependence so that we can improve smoking cessation policies and practice.”

Dr Geoffrey Kira

Poverty and nutrition

Dr Kira will explore the many components of poverty-related nutrition-based illnesses to challenge common assumptions regarding food and nutrition security within these groups.

“Poverty is directly related to the poor and unreliable access to nutritious food,” says Dr Kira. “But the question must be asked, ‘If healthy food is accessible, will it be eaten?’ This research will provide the basis for interventions that address the very real issue of poverty-related nutrition-based illness.”

The study will deliver food to the doors of those in need to see if access to nutritious food will result in more nutritious food being eaten.

HRC chief executive Professor Kath McPherson says, “Explorer grants support health researchers with transformative ideas that challenge the status quo and have the potential to revolutionise health care.”

The HRC also gave out an additional 8 explorer grants worth a combined total of $1.65 million.

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