Annual Grants

Our premier round of year-long, innovative early-stage research projects.

The Council of the Otago Medical Research Foundation selects grants, from applications received each year, to support medical research in the Otago area relating to human health or the basic sciences of relevance to medicine.

Funds (normally <$40,000 and for one year only) allow innovative research projects to be undertaken.

Annual Grants awarded in 2022

ADEPT MACTODD Charitable Trust (Funder)

Novel, cost effective solutions for equitable tumour mutational burden testing in NZ

Lead Researcher: Dr Robert Day, Department of Biochemistry, University of Otago

Cancer is New Zealand’s biggest killer and targeting effective therapies to patients who are likely to benefit will improve outcomes. The number of DNA changes in a tumour can predict how well a person will respond to therapies that induce the patient’s own immune system to attack the cancer. Current genomic profiling methods used to estimate mutational changes are costly, time consuming and inaccessible to many New Zealanders. Here we aim to develop and implement more efficient methods that will facilitate improved and equitable cancer care. 

Aotea Holdings Group (funder)

Using carbon monoxide to prevent doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity.

Lead Researcher: Dr Abigail Bland, Pharmacology & Toxicology, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Otago

Doxorubicin remains one of the most commonly used chemotherapies for cancers, including triple negative breast cancer. Although doxorubicin provides effective cancer treatment, it can inadvertently produce severe heart damage. However, reducing the dose or discontinuing treatment risks accelerated tumour progression and premature death. As low doses of carbon monoxide have been shown to be cardioprotective, this project will explore a safe carbon monoxide-releasing molecule to prevent heart damage from doxorubicin.

Margaret Begg Charitable Trust (Funder)

How does mutation of cytochrome C cause low platelets?

Lead Researcher: Associate Professor Elizabeth Ledgerwood, Department of Biochemistry, University of Otago

Platelets are small blood cells that are essential for clotting and repair of damaged blood vessels. When people have low platelets (e.g. following chemotherapy) they require platelet transfusions. Because donated platelets have a short shelf life, scientists worldwide are trying to develop new ways of producing platelets. This requires us to fully understand how platelets are normally made. Studying people with inherited low platelets helps us understand how human platelets are made. We have identified NZ families with mutations that cause low platelets. We will determine how these mutations change platelet production. By enhancing our understanding of platelet formation, we will help international efforts identifying new therapeutic approaches for treating low platelets.

Aotearoa Gaming Trust (Funder)

Switching from tolerance to resistance: are ncRNAs the missing link?

Lead Researcher: Dr Glen Reid, Department of Pathology, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago

Cancer treatment has been revolutionised by targeted therapeutics which act by blocking the pathways that drive cancer. However, despite initial dramatic results, relapse is inevitable and a major clinical problem. Recent studies have identified a rare population of drug-tolerant cells as being largely responsible for relapse. These cells evade therapy and become permanently resistant by acquiring mutations. Here we will determine how drug-tolerant cells gain the mutations which allow them to permanently evade therapy. By understanding how drug-tolerant cells become permanently resistant our long-term goal is to prevent their contribution to relapse and improve treatment outcomes for cancer patients.

OceanaGold (Funder)

Role of a cytochrome oxidase in making Pseudomonas aeruginosa tolerant to antibiotics

Lead Researcher: Professor Iain Lamont, Department of Department of Biochemistry, University of Otago

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an extremely problematic bacterial pathogen, causing a wide range of infections. Antibiotics often fail to eradicate the bacteria. During infections P. aeruginosa often exists under conditions where little or no oxygen is present. We have identified a protein that helps the bacteria to resist a key antibiotic, tobramycin, during growth in the absence of oxygen. In this research we will investigate how this protein helps the bacteria resist tobramycin. The research could lead to more reliable methods for predicting which antibiotics will be effective in treating Pseudomonas infections, and in the long-term much-needed new tools for treatment.

Otago Community Trust (Funder)

A NZ family to reveal pathways of B-cell immunity and cancer

Lead Researcher: Professor Ian Morison, Department of Pathology, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago

Naturally occurring genetic variants within families provide an opportunity to reveal the pathways of human disease. We are studying a NZ family with Otago members who have a specific genetic mutation that predisposes them to autoimmune destruction of their own platelets, but also appears to predispose them to cancers of the immune system. Two members of the family have, at a young age, developed cancers of immune cells. While mouse experiments have shown disturbed immune cell development, humans are different and this family provide an opportunity to determine the role of the affected gene (MYB) in human health and disease

Otago Community Trust (Funder)

Development of a dual action molecular targeting construct for the treatment of ADPKD

Lead Researcher: Professor Mike Eccles, Department of Pathology, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago

Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is one of the most common inherited fatal diseases in humans, affecting about 1 in 1000 people. Multiple members of one family can be afflicted, with devastating consequences. Tolvaptan is the only available treatment for ADPKD, although it has severe side-effects. We, and others, have shown that lowering the expression of certain genes that promote cyst growth can slow disease progression. In this proposal we will test a molecular approach that targets two of these gene products at once, PAX2 and miR-17. Developing ADPKD-specific treatments is the key to slow cyst formation and delay kidney failure.

Otago Community Trust (Funder)

Examining the relationship between epicardial fat and heart health of post- menopausal women

Lead Researcher: Dr Hamish Aitken-Buck, Physiology, School of Biomedical Sciences (BMS), University of Otago

The thickness of fat surrounding the heart and the risk of heart disease both increase markedly in women after menopause. How changes in heart fat might contribute to heart disease processes is unknown. Using human samples, this project aims to determine whether fat deposits and formation of scar tissue within the hearts of post-menopausal women is linked to differences in fat metabolism and expression of pro-scarring factors within heart fat. The insights gained from this research will fill important gaps in the understanding of why a woman’s heart becomes more susceptible to disease after menopause.

Previous Annual Grant funding rounds