HRC Emerging Researchers First Grants

28 May, 2021
HRC Emerging Researchers First Grants
Dr Cassandra Fleming, Dr Tom Stewart, Dr Mangor Pedersen

AUT picked up one third of Health Research Council Emerging Researchers First Grants this year. The grants, which are all for a term of three years, went to the following:

Dr Cassandra Fleming, School of Science, received $246,869.00 for work on light-responsive molecular tools to study Tau-mediated neurodegeneration.

“Unfortunately, effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, are currently unavailable, simply because we still do not understand what exactly causes the decline in brain function. This project aims to develop new 'light-responsive' molecular tools. In doing so, one can control when and where a drug can bind in the central nervous system (CNS) of a suitable model system and study it's mode of action. Following the administration of the drug in an inactive form, light will be used to trigger its activation only in the CNS of the model system. Results arising from this project will afford researchers with unique tools to study the role of key enzymes in the CNS and their relationship to neurodegeneration, which today are poorly understood. We envision that the information generated from this project will greatly assist the scientific community in identifying new therapeutic strategies to combat this debilitating disease.”

Dr Tom Stewart, Human Potential Centre, School of Sport and Recreation, received $124,261.00 for studying environmental determinants of national physical activity and nutrition behaviour.

“The way we design our cities influences people’s physical activity and nutrition behaviours, which in turn affects chronic disease. Obesity is one of the most significant health burdens we face as a country, but very little has changed over the last 20 years. People must live in an environment that is conducive to healthy decisions to maximise the possibility of widespread and long-term behaviour change. This research will combine geographic datasets with New Zealand Health Survey data (n = 18,000 participants) to show how the built environment affects both physical activity and nutrition behaviours, and how these behaviours help to explain the link between the environment and obesity. A novel modelling tool will be produced that can predict how future urban planning decisions will affect the behaviour and health of communities.”

Dr Mangor Pedersen, School of Clinical Sciences, received $249,964.95 for research on improving outcomes of mild traumatic brain Injury with advanced brain imaging.

“Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) is one of the most common, potentially serious, and disabling brain conditions, affecting 35,000 New Zealanders every year. Yet currently, mTBI diagnosis and treatment is often based on guesswork. We cannot answer basic questions such as – do I have a mild brain injury? Will I recover quickly? Will brain injury result in long-term problems? I will tackle these questions by taking non-invasive images of brain structure and function using advanced MRI in people with an acute mTBI. I hypothesise that i) brain abnormalities are confined to the brain's frontal lobes following a mild brain injury; ii) and that structural and functional brain images will predict the recovery time of the brain injury. Gaining an understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying mTBI and its recovery is a step towards determining evidence-based guidelines to improve the clinical management of brain injuries.”