AUT success with Marsden funding

12 Nov, 2020
AUT success with Marsden funding
Dr Cassandra Fleming

Two AUT academics have won 2020 Marsden funding for research projects, and another has received a sub-contract.

Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden (the Marsden Fund) encourages New Zealand’s leading researchers to explore new ideas that may not be supported through other funding streams, and fosters creativity and innovation. This year, the Marsden Fund has allocated $84 million to 134 research projects. These grants support excellent New Zealand research in the humanities, science, maths, social sciences and engineering.

Re-imagining anti-racism theory in the health sector

Associate Professor Jacquie Kidd (School of Clinical Sciences) and Dr Heather Came (School of Public Health and Interdisciplinary Studies) will develop a transformational theory and practice of anti-racism that is relevant to all levels of the health sector. The aim of this research is to eliminate racism and health inequities in the health sector by developing an action-focused theory of anti-racism to underpin and inform cohesive and sustainable anti-racism endeavours.

Racism and dishonouring of te Tiriti o Waitangi are significant contributors to Māori health inequities in Aotearoa New Zealand. While there is growing acknowledgement of this situation and some improvement in individual practice within various disciplines, few initiatives have attempted to engage with racism in the health sector at an institutional level.

With her Marsden Fund standard grant, Associate Professor Kidd will draw on existing research by the team around cultural safety, health inequities and mapping racism that identifies the need for a cohesive approach to addressing racism in the health sector. It is underpinned by Māori health aspirations, and focuses on the nexus of Māori and Tauiwi knowledges. This novel methodological approach is based on kaupapa Māori theory, Western change theories, Critical te Tiriti Analysis and informed by Te Ara Tika ethical principles.

The study comprises four iterative stages over three years which will generate, refine, test, and disseminate a theory of anti-racism in collaboration with health sector partners. Governance will be provided by a Kaitiaki Rōpū complemented by an expert Advisory Rōpū to construct an equitable relational space for the project.

The total funding is $870,000 over three years.

Using light to track and target drug delivery

Dr Cassandra Fleming (School of Science) will develop new light-responsive drug delivery systems to control when and where drugs target their therapeutic activity.

One of the major challenges in medicinal chemistry is reducing the toxic side effects caused by poor selectivity of drugs. Among efforts to improve chemotherapy treatments and achieve personalised medicine regimens, a promising approach is the development of targeted drug delivery systems. Effective targeted drug delivery systems enable the therapeutic agent to be delivered, not only to the desired cell, but also to a specific sub-compartment of the cell to enable maximum potency. Advancing the field of targeted drug delivery is strongly dependent on being able to track where the drug is delivered, and to activate it when it has reached the desired location. An innovative solution to both these challenges is to use light to both track where the drug builds up and trigger the release of the drug within the desired location.

With her Marsden Fund Fast-Start grant, Dr Fleming will develop new ‘light-responsive’ targeted drug delivery systems to control exactly when and where drugs are activated within cells. Molecules which target specific sub-compartments within cells will be linked with fluorescent groups that then form a ‘cage’ around the drug, masking its activity. The fluorescent group will enable the drug to be tracked to its target using light. When it reaches the desired target within a cell, the fluorescent cage is then unlocked with light, activating the drug. Light responsive systems have the potential to be much smaller and simpler than current drug delivery systems.

Dr Fleming will focus on an important drug target for Alzheimer’s disease, an enzyme called GSK-3, whose role in different sub-compartments of the cell is poorly understood. Results arising from this project will provide unique molecular tools to study the mode of action of drugs in individual cellular compartments.

The total funding is $300,000 over three years.

Variation and change in New Zealand Sign Language

Dr George Major (School of Language and Culture) has been subcontracted as Associate Investigator on a $778,000 grant awarded to Victoria University of Wellington, and led by its Associate Professor Rachel McKee.

The research project is called Signs of development: Sociolinguistic variation and change in New Zealand Sign Language in times of status change and globalisation. The project will look at how innovation and changes in New Zealand Sign Language correlates with the social characteristics of the users and the particular context in which the language is used.

The research projects have undergone a highly rigorous selection process, including substantial international peer review, and are consequently of world class standard.

Marsden Fund Council Chair, Professor David Bilkey, says: “It is always humbling to see both the quality and breadth of excellent research that is being conducted within New Zealand. I congratulate those that have received funding, but I am also aware that these are highly competitive funding rounds, and that there are many excellent proposals that we are unfortunately unable to support. New Zealanders are world leaders in many research areas and the Marsden Fund plays a critical role in ensuring that we continue to have expertise available in these fields. Furthermore, Marsden Fund support enhances connectivity between researchers, both nationally and internationally whilst also facilitating the engagement between researchers and their communities”.

Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden is managed by Royal Society Te Apārangi on behalf of the government.