Health Research Matters

By Karen November 9, 2016

Monthly newsletter of New Zealanders for Health Research (NZHR)
November 2016

Greetings and tena koutou

This issue of Health Research Matters highlights a recent UK publication which addresses the topic of “optimising the research environment for a healthier, fairer future”.

November includes awareness weeks for Parkinson’s disease (1st – 7th) and diabetes (11th – 17th), and has been flagged as both Epilepsy Awareness month and Men’s Health month (Movember). We therefore focus on research relevant to these conditions and initiatives. And we also bring you a couple of snippets from our sister organisations Research Australia and Research America.


Optimising the research environment for a healthier, fairer future

 NZHR graphic

This might have been the subtext of the New Zealand Health Research Strategy Public Discussion Document published in May 2016, and it certainly resonates with that document’s statement that “a high performing research and innovation system in New Zealand will be critical to achieving the outcomes sought in the New Zealand Health Strategy” – i.e. all New Zealanders living well, staying well and getting well.

Rather, however, it is the subtitle of a September 2016 report “Improving the Health of the Public by 2040” published by the UK’s Academy of Medical Sciences.

The report notes changes that “present grave challenges to our health and to the sustainability of our health and social care systems, both nationally and globally” including “a growing and ageing population with multiple morbidities and more years spent in ill health, resource depletion, persistent inequalities, climate change, a rise in obesity and sedentary behaviour, and emerging and resistant infectious diseases.”

The authors state that their aspiration for 2040 “is for health gains which significantly exceed those we might expect based on current trajectories; for a future in which the UK population experiences substantial and ongoing improvements in physical health, mental health, health-related quality of life and health equity, and in which the UK contributes to the global endeavour for similar improvements.”

The report makes eleven recommendations on how to organise the UK’s research environment to generate and translate the evidence needed to underpin strategies to effectively respond to the above issues and secure and improve the health of the public as a whole.

As such NZHR commends it as a useful reference for those charged with developing New Zealand’s Health Research Strategy. We’ll have a more in depth look at the report’s recommendations in future issues of Health Research Matters.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Parkinson’s research

Parkinson’s New Zealand reports that New Zealand biotechnology company Living Cell Technologies Limited (LCT) announced in October that it has completed the first stage of a clinical trial underway in Auckland of its planned treatment for Parkinson’s.

LCT reported that it has completed treatment of all six participants in group one of its Phase 2b clinical trial, with four participants having NTCELL capsules implanted into their brain. To date there are no safety issues with any of the participants.

The research led by Auckland based neurologist Dr Barry Snow involves surgically placing tiny capsules containing cells from Auckland Island pigs into the brains of people with well-established Parkinson’s who were no longer responding to traditional therapy.

For more information about the NTCELL trial please refer to the Living Cell Technologies press release.

Epilepsy research

University of Otago’s Wellington Epilepsy Research Group (WERG) was established in 2007 and conducts clinical and genetic research into epilepsy in New Zealand. The group has strong collaborative ties with the Epilepsy Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia. The aim of the research is to better describe epilepsies and identify the genes that cause them.

The overall rationale is that understanding the basic molecular mechanisms of the inherited epilepsies will result in a deeper understanding of the disorder, with implications for diagnosis, prognosis and development of new treatments. WERG is funded through project grants from the Health Research Council of New Zealand and Cure Kids New Zealand. More

Global Men’s Health Survey 2015–2016

The Movember Foundation has invested in an online survey that has researchers across Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada and the United States investigating men’s health and wellbeing. During 2015 and 2016, 2,000 men and women, aged 16 and over, from each of these countries were asked questions about health and wellbeing to better understand how men are tracking compared to women on a whole range of important health related areas. The Foundation intends that the results, which are due to be released shortly, will inform its focus in 2016 and beyond. “Once we know why men and boys aren’t living their happiest, healthiest and longest lives, we can start to turn things around.” More

Diabetes research

Diabetes New Zealand’s website lists several research initiatives including:

A project to find out whether a person’s own bone marrow stem cells can be used as an effective therapy to combat type 1 diabetes.

A study to assess the impact of regular exercise supported by personal training for people with type 2 diabetes not requiring insulin

A gestational diabetes mellitus study which is trying to find out whether the current criterion used to diagnose diabetes in pregnancy in New Zealand is best, or whether a lower blood glucose threshold should be used for detection.

An investigation into how nutrition in early life alters the risk of children and young people developing obesity, diabetes, metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, and how these effects are mediated by hormones. More  

Research Australia

Research Australia’s Spring issue of its magazine is available online here. It’s a great read which, while we’re on the topic of diabetes, includes an article on a trial of a new digital health programme to help people with Type 2 diabetes to stay on top of their condition and reduce the risk of developing serious diabetes related complications.

People with diabetes are invited to access the programme from their smart phones, tablets and PCs via an app called My Diabetes Coach. Those who participate will be monitored to see how effective the programme is in supporting them to self-manage their condition. The app presents users with a health coach called Laura who appears as a virtual interactive 3D avatar. She checks in with users weekly to discuss all aspects of their diabetes management, and helps them to set goals and track progress. The app is fitted with interactive voice recognition, and the ability to both upload and monitor blood glucose levels against general practitioner recommended targets.

Research America

Research America reports that Dr Cori Bargmann, president of science for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, recently discussed the importance of taking the long view in science, even as she stressed the immediate need for stepped-up collaboration across specialties and throughout the research and innovation ecosystem. Vice President Joe Biden voiced a similar sentiment during the White House weekly address, focusing on the Cancer Moonshot. “If we want the Moonshot to be a success, we must break down barriers standing in the way of innovative partnerships, and we must couple collaboration with an infusion of funds that allows for research to progress at maximum speed”.

NZHR believes that these same principles can be applied equally to New Zealand’s health research endeavours.

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Ngā mihi and until next time
Chris Higgins
Chief Executive