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 2020

JN Lemon Charitable Trust (Funder)

Streaming before dreaming: how do electronic media influence sleep in children?

Researcher: Professor Rachael Taylor, Department of Medicine, University of Otago

Using electronic media before bed leads to poor sleep, which in turn, impacts how well children function the following day. We don’t currently know how much children are using electronic media in the evening (including after “lights out”), whether more interactive behaviours like gaming are worse than reading a book on your iPad, or whether using multiple devices at the same time have different effects on sleep in 10- 12 year old children. By using wearable and stationary cameras to objectively measure screen behaviours, we will be able to answer these questions, providing much-needed information for developing appropriate sleep health guidelines.

Aotea Holdings Group (Funder)

How much breast milk are New Zealand infants actually getting?

Researcher: Dr Lisa Daniels, Department of Medicine, University of Otago

Surprisingly little is known about what infants consume during their remarkable journey from drinking a 100% milk diet at birth, to eating the same foods as their family around their first birthday. In fact, even though breast milk is the main food for 69% of New Zealand babies until at least 8 months of age, we don’t even know how much breast milk they are consuming. The First Foods New Zealand (FFNZ) study has been funded by the HRC to find out what and how New Zealand babies are being fed, but additional sample collection is required for accurate measurements to be made of the amount of breast milk babies are getting. This funding will enable FFNZ to collect these data.

Otago Community Trust (Funder)

Does "Closing the Loop" improve sleep in those living with type 1 diabetes?

Researcher: Associate Professor Ben Wheeler, Department of Women’s & Children’s Health, University of Otago

People living with Type 1 Diabetes need to ensure their blood glucose is well controlled to avoid short and long-term complications. New technology (undergoing clinical trials) acts like an artificial pancreas to do this. Our preliminary evidence that sleep improves using this technology will be explored further in a new trial of 60 patients; measuring and asking about their sleep, alongside interviewing a subsample about their experiences using this technology specifically related to glucose management and everyday living. The research will provide important information on the benefits of this state-of-the-art technology for improving sleep with wide implications for overall health.

Otago Community Trust (Funder)

The Role of the Epithelial Sodium Channel (ENaC) in Breast Cancer Metastasis

Researcher: Fiona McDonald, Department of Physiology, University of Otago

Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women worldwide, with 90% of these deaths attributed to metastasis, the process whereby cells from the primary tumour migrate and invade a secondary site in the body. Our preliminary data has suggested that the epithelial sodium channel (ENaC), an ion channel with a role in the regulation of blood pressure, has a significant impact on key metastatic characteristics. Our research investigates the role ENaC may play in metastasis with a particular focus on how ENaC affects the speed of growth of breast cancer cells.

Margaret Begg Charitable Trust and Friends of the Foundation (Funder)

Understanding and targeting drug tolerance in lung cancer to prevent drug resistance

Researcher: Dr Aniruddha Chatterjee Department of Pathology University of Otago

Cancer drugs that target specific mutations have improved survival for some patients, but responses are usually short-lived and patients invariably suffer relapse with drug- resistant tumours. Previously it was thought that this was due to traditional Darwinian selection of pre-existing mutant cells. However, recently it has been discovered that some cancer cells in a tumour are able to adapt to a drug-tolerant state. These persistent cells then give rise to mutants during continued treatment. Whether they exist prior to treatment, are induced by the drug, or both, is not well understood. Here we will analyse the epigenetic characteristics of these cells to better identify and target them.

The Southern Trust (Funder)

Host response to mono- and polymicrobial infections in a mouse skin abscess model and treatment with an immunomodulatory peptide

Researcher: Dr Daniel Pletzer, Department of Microbiology & Immunology University of Otago

Infectious diseases have traditionally been associated with individual microorganisms. However, recent progress in sequencing technologies revealed that many infections are mixed where two or more species of microbes occupy the same niche. This increases the severity of the infection and complicates treatment strategies. It is important to understand how the body reacts to individual and mixed infections to identify better interventions for complex infectious diseases. Our research will address this gap, investigating the response of a mouse host to various infections and we will investigate a novel treatment strategy, based on a small synthetic peptide, for mixed infection.

ADEPT-MACTODD Trust (Funder) 

Delivery of a micro RNA based nanoncomposite powder for treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Researcher: Dr Shyamal Das, School of Pharmacy, University of Otago

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. In New Zealand, it has the highest mortality of all respiratory diseases and is highly prevalent in Māori. This is largely because the current treatment of COPD has only limited efficacy. The aim of this project is to develop a novel gene therapy for COPD using an inhaled treatment. We will produce formulations containing a combination of molecular regulators and test them in the lab. This type of gene therapy has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of COPD.

OceanaGold/Otago Medical Research Foundation (Funder)

Immunity to measles in immunised young adults - is it waning and does it matter?

Researcher: Professor Peter McIntyre, Department of Women’s & Children’s Health University of Otago

Measles is highly contagious, and non-immune health professionals are at risk of being exposed to measles and potentially infecting their patients. Despite previous immunisation, about 15% of health science students at the University of Otago do not have detectable measles antibody by standard tests. They receive another dose of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine but are not re-tested. In 2021, we will invite students receiving a MMR booster to have new, more sensitive blood tests to check their immunity – an important first step in working out if waning immunity to measles is a problem, and if so what to do about it.