$9 million in funding for Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington to improve health and wellbeing outcomes

Professor Bev Lawton and the team from Te Tātai Hauora o Hine—the National Centre for Women’s Health Research Aotearoa have received nearly $5 million dollars for a five-year programme of research work with the ultimate goal of providing culturally safe and responsive maternity and child health care services within Aotearoa and delivering equitable outcomes.

In partnership with Ngāti Toa Rangatira and Capital Coast District Health Board, the programme aims to directly inform health delivery practice and system changes. It includes implementation of an Iwi-led healthcare model with a postnatal hub in Porirua to improve postnatal health and wellbeing outcomes.

Overall this programme will fill in the knowledge gaps and intervene to reduce avoidable harm and death for our Māori pēpi, māmā, and whānau.

Associate Professor Bronwyn Kivell from the University’s School of Biological Sciences—Te Kura Mātauranga Koiora has received approximately $1.2 million to develop effective and safe pain medications to replace current opioid options that are addictive and ineffective for long-term chronic pain.

“Current pain medications targeting the mu-opioid receptor such as morphine, fentanyl, and tramadol are addictive and ineffective at treating chronic pain when used long-term. They can also be lethal, targeting a part of the brain that causes breathing to stop,” says Associate Professor Kivell.

She says misuse of these prescription pain medications can be a gateway to illicit drug use.

“The misuse of these pain medications has contributed to the opioid epidemic, which is killing hundreds of people each day globally, including nearly 50,000 people in the US in 2019 alone. Although rates of opioid use, misuse, and abuse are not readily available for the New Zealand population, New Zealand, like the US, has seen a spike in the number of opioid overdose deaths. There is therefore an urgent need to develop safer, more effective pain medication.”

Professor Emily Parker and Dr Wanting Jiao from the University’s Ferrier Research Institute—Te Kāuru have received $1.2 million in funding for their research into the urgent development of new antimicrobial drugs to target anti-microbial resistance (AMR). Anti-microbial resistance is a significant global health challenge as a wide range of bacteria are developing resistance to current antibiotics, leaving limited treatment options for many important diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the huge risk of infectious disease, and has contributed to worsening economic conditions, and substantial pre-emptive use of antibiotics in COVID-19 patients (allowing bacteria to develop resistance to these products).

“This research will help us target an Achilles heel of pathogenic bacteria and aid the development of novel antibiotics,” says Professor Parker.

Dr Clive Aspin and his colleagues from the University’s School of Health —Te Kura Tātai Hauora have received close to $1.2 million dollars for research into coronial processes to improve suicide prevention strategies for rangatahi, who have very high rates of suicide. The project will collect and analyse whānau stories to understand how their role in coronial processes can be enhanced, and how everyone involved in these processes can contribute to rangatahi suicide prevention. The findings will contribute to policy adjustments in health and justice to enhance the delivery of Māori suicide prevention initiatives.

“Our recent research suggests coronial reporting and engagement with whānau is often minimal, sometimes non-existent, or usually does not take culturally appropriate perspectives into consideration. Current models of coronial investigation fail to capitalise on the rich resources that reside within whānau,” Dr Aspin says.

In addition, Professor Colin Simpson from the Faculty of Health is involved in another HRC-funded project on respiratory illnesses led by the University of Otago.

“We want to use our expertise to serve our communities,” says Kaiwhakakapi Tumu Whakarae—Acting Vice-Chancellor Jennifer Windsor. “This research funding allows us contribute and partner with others in tackling the critical issues facing us today.”

“We are delighted to receive this funding, which acknowledges the incredible expertise present in Science, Health, Engineering, Architecture and Design Innovation,” says Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Ehsan Mesbahi. “Aotearoa and the world at large will greatly benefit from the advances in health and wellbeing made by our funding recipients, and we are very proud of the contribution they make.”