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Research sector awarded $53.7 million to tackle a range of health issues

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The Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) has today announced $53.7 million in government funding for research into pressing health issues, including a large trial to help New Zealanders quit vaping and a project to improve the health and wellbeing outcomes of young Māori released from prison and youth justice residences. 

HRC Chief Executive Professor Sunny Collings says the 44 Project Grants supported through this funding provide exciting opportunities to help advance our knowledge and drive meaningful change in the health system. 

“We are fortunate to have an extremely talented pool of health researchers in Aotearoa. These project grants are an important way for us to help develop and sustain the country’s health research workforce so they can continue to do the necessary mahi to improve health outcomes for New Zealanders,” says Professor Collings.

University of Auckland’s Associate Professor Natalie Walker and her team will use their grant to carry out a large community-based clinical trial of two low-cost interventions to help New Zealanders stop vaping. The trial will test whether cytisine – a medicine that partially blocks the effects of nicotine on the brain – is more effective than a tapered reduction in nicotine, when accompanied with text behavioural support from the New Zealand Quitline.

Associate Professor Natalie Walker says it is inevitable that vaping in New Zealand will continue to increase as new tobacco control policies come into effect that will decrease the number of tobacco retailers and only allow reduced nicotine tobacco to be sold. 

“These policy changes in the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan will make medical nicotine replacement therapy and vapes (e-cigarettes) the only legal nicotine available for smokers to manage withdrawal symptoms,” says Associate Professor Walker. 

“Over time, people who vape may also wish to stop, yet little evidence exists on the best ways to support people to do this. Our trial plans to add to that evidence base, as ideally being both smoke and vape free is optimal for health.”

“The priority remains that people should not smoke cigarettes, which kill about 5,000 New Zealanders a year1. Our trial will also assess whether interventions for quitting vaping have any unintended consequences on smoking rates.”

Dr Paula Toko King (Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whātua, Waikato Tainui, Ngāti Maniapoto) and Charlizza Matehe (Ngāti Kahungunu) from the community-based rangatahi Māori research organisation Toi Matarua are co-leading a Rangahau Hauroa Māori project to explore culturally safe and effective pathways to improve the health and wellbeing of mokopuna Māori aged 10 to 24 years following release from youth justice residences and prisons.

Dr King says community re-entry, including release from incarceration and the days, weeks, months and years following, is a crucial intervention point for addressing the health and wellbeing impacts of incarceration on mokopuna Māori.

“Child and youth incarceration is increasingly recognised as a determinant of health and wellbeing across the life course, with age at first incarceration an important predictor of outcomes. Our project will provide the most comprehensive knowledge in Aotearoa to date about community re-entry for mokopuna Māori. This is an area where we need effective solutions, not only for Māori, but also for Indigenous children and young people around the world,” says Dr King.

One of three Pacific-focused grants has gone to two emerging Pacific health researchers, Dr Zaramasina Clark from the School of Biological Sciences, Research Trust of Victoria University of Wellington, and Dr Edmond Fehoko from the Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago. The pair will co-lead a study to identify how assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) can better serve New Zealand’s Pacific population, who experience higher levels of infertility than other ethnicities in New Zealand yet are among the least likely to seek fertility treatments.

One important consideration the team will explore is the contentious clinical use of body mass index (BMI) to prioritise patients who seek assisted reproductive technologies through the public health system, a practice that disadvantages ethnicities with higher BMI such as Pacific and Māori women. Their project aims to provide critical data for evaluating whether the use of BMI cut-offs for prioritising publicly funded assisted reproductive technology treatments are fit for purpose in New Zealand.

See below for the full list of 2023 Project Grant recipients (Rangahau Hauora Māori, Pacific Health and General categories). To read lay summaries about any of these research projects, go to and filter by proposal type ‘Projects’ and year ‘2023’. 

1 Ministry of Health,

2023 Project Grants recipients

Rangahau Hauora Māori Project Grants

Dr Paula Toko King, University of Otago and Charlizza Matehe, Toi Matarua (co-leaders)
Ngā Hau o Tāwhiri - Returning our mokopuna to the winds of Tāwhiri 
36 months, $1,199,965

Dr Tess Moeke-Maxwell, the University of Auckland 
Waerea: Māori whānau experiences of assisted dying in Aotearoa New Zealand 
36 months, $1,199,999

Pacific Health Project Grants

Dr Apo Aporosa and Associate Professor Sione Vaka, University of Waikato (co-leaders) 
The therapeutic potential of kava in the treatment of psychological trauma 
36 months, $997,453

Dr Zaramasina Clark, Research Trust of Victoria University of Wellington, Dr Edmond Fehoko, University of Otago (co-leaders)
Can assisted reproductive technologies better assist Pacific people in Āotearoa? 
36 months, $1,199,999

Professor Daryl Schwenke, University of Otago 
Can loss of a ‘hunger’ hormone increase cardiovascular disease in Pacific people? 
36 months, $1,199,984

General Project Grants

Professor Greg Anderson, Dr Caroline Decourt, University of Otago (co-leaders)
Curbing the reproductive hormonal axis to control PCOS 
36 months, $1,199,989

Dr Htin Lin Aung, University of Otago, Dr Anneka Anderson (Te Kupenga Hauora Maori, University of Auckland), Dr Veronica Playle (Te Whatu Ora - Counties Manukau) and Mr Gregory Gimenez (University of Otago) (co-leaders)
Understanding inequitable tuberculosis transmission in Aotearoa 
36 months, $1,180,728

Dr Ashleigh Barrett-Young, Professor Richie Poulton, University of Otago (co-leaders)
Blood-based biomarkers of dementia in a longitudinal birth cohort 
36 months, $1,200,000

Dr Ben Beaglehole, University of Otago 
Ketamine versus ketamine plus behavioural activation therapy for depression 
36 months, $1,194,434

Professor Antony Braithwaite and Dr Kunyu Li, University of Otago (co-leaders)
A role for p53 isoform Δ133p53 in the progression of inflammatory bowel disease 
36 months, $1,199,998

Professor Winston Byblow, the University of Auckland 
A compositional neurophysiological biomarker for predicting stroke recovery 
36 months, $1,199,999

Professor Rebecca Campbell, University of Otago 
Identifying central therapeutic targets in polycystic ovary syndrome 
36 months, $1,198,920

Research Professor Christopher Charles and Dr Nicola Scott, University of Otago (co-leaders)
PDE9: inhibition in experimental MI and plasma levels in human heart disease 
36 months, $1,194,867

Professor Alan Davidson, the University of Auckland 
Development of a targeted drug therapy for acute kidney injury 
36 months, $1,199,999

Professor Sarah Derrett, Professor Emma Wyeth, University of Otago (co-leaders)
Hinapōuri ki Hīnātore: Improving mental health outcomes and services 
30 months, $1,199,861

Associate Professor Allan Gamble, University of Otago 
Cancer targeted bioorthogonal prodrugs 
36 months, $1,199,997

Dr Sarah-Jane Guild, the University of Auckland 
Improving lives of hydrocephalus patients - first human trial of a novel device 
36 months, $1,199,015

Dr Caroline Halley, Professor Julian Crane, University of Otago (co-leaders)
Urban farm-like dust: microbial origin and protective effects on later asthma 
48 months, $1,196,993

Associate Professor Sarah Hetrick, Dr Tania Cargo, the University of Auckland (co-leaders)
TIPS: Trans-Tasman Internet-delivered Prevention of (youth) Suicide 
36 months, $1,437,012

Professor Merilyn Hibma, Associate Professor Peter Sykes, Gregory Gimenez, University of Otago (co-leaders)
A molecular triage test to reduce colposcopy referrals after HPV testing 
36 months, $1,199,987

Professor Philip Hill, Dr Nina Scott, University of Otago  (co-leaders)
Towards tuberculosis elimination for Māori 
36 months, $1,135,327

Professor Julia Horsfield and Dr Jisha Antony, University of Otago (co-leaders)
Fighting leukaemia colonisation of the haematopoietic niche 
36 months, $1,198,340

Dr Carrie Innes, University of Otago 
Where are the inequities in the journey from health to gynae cancer in Aotearoa? 
36 months, $1,187,765

Dr Hannah Jones, Auckland Hospitals Research and Endowment Fund, Dr Cynthia Sharpe, Te Whatu Ora – Te Toka Tumai Auckland, Dr Skekeeb Mohammad and Professor Russell Dale, University of Sydney, Professor Anna Ralph, Menzies School of Health Research (co-leaders)
A randomised controlled trial of oral dexamethasone to treat Sydenham's chorea 
60 months, $1,438,044

Associate Professor Peter Jones, University of Otago 
Establishment of a new molecular target for arrhythmias and heart failure 
36 months, $1,198,100

Professor Kurt Krause, University of Otago 
Targeting microbial energetics to achieve a rapid cure for tuberculosis 
36 months, $1,199,908

Professor Rita Krishnamurthi, Auckland University of Technology 
Digital technologies for stroke prevention: a randomised controlled trial 
48 months, $1,440,000

Dr Kate Lee, the University of Auckland 
Toward a mechanism for CREBRF R457Q to drive diabetes protection 
36 months, $1,199,861

Dr Julie Lim, the University of Auckland 
Disposable, not dispensable: Reducing the incidence of cataract post vitrectomy 
36 months, $1,139,547

Dr Sunali Mehta, University of Otago 
Relaxed quality control: How rogue AS-NMD drives cancer evolution 
36 months, $1,184,999

Professor Suetonia Palmer, University of Otago 
IMPEDE-PKD: Metformin to protect kidney function in polycystic kidney disease 
60 months, $1,439,999

Professor Julian Paton and Dr Fiona McBryde, the University of Auckland (co-leaders)
A novel intracranial baroreceptor mechanism for blood pressure control 
36 months, $1,199,911

Dr Rachel Purcell, University of Otago, Professor Francis Fizelle, University of Otago/Te Whatu Ora – Waitaha Canterbury/Te tai o Poutini West Coast (co-leaders)
Targeting the tumour microenvironment to improve outcomes in rectal cancer 
36 months, $1,200,000

Dr Charlene Rapsey, University of Otago 
Connected: Who benefits from online delivery of mental disorder treatment? 
36 months, $1,439,846

Dr Euan Rodger and Associate Professor Aniruddha Chatterjee, University of Otago (co-leaders)
Identifying epigenetic markers for early detection of colorectal cancer 
36 months, $1,199,979

Professor Franca Ronchese and Dr Sotaro Ochiai, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research (co-leaders)
Plasticity of the skin IL-13+ innate lymphoid cell niche
36 months, $1,200,000

Professor Nicole Roy, University of Otago 
Effect of an Aotearoa New Zealand diet for metabolic health on the gut microbiome 
36 months, $1,174,971

Professor Gisela Sole, University of Otago 
Stepped rehabilitation for people with persistent shoulder pain 
36 months, $1,187,250

Associate Professor Lisa Te Morenga, Massey University 
Bringing manaakitanga to waitlists with tailored Smart Start letters 
36 months, $1,198,634

Associate Professor Natalie Walker, the University of Auckland 
The New Zealand Quit Vaping Trial 
36 months, $1,438,524

Associate Professor Christopher Wilkins, Massey University 
Translating, modelling and evaluating cannabis policy reform 
36 months, $1,187,932

Dr Esther Willing, Dr Amber Young, University of Otago (co-leaders)
Protecting hapū māmā and pēpi from vaccine preventable diseases 
36 months, $1,158,530

Professor John Windsor, the University of Auckland 
Protecting the lungs of the critical illness patient 
36 months, $1,199,915

Professor Paul Young, Medical Research Institute of New Zealand 
Low OxyGen Intervention for Cardiac Arrest Injury Limitation (LOGICAL) Trial 
48 months, $1,191,990