The health and safety of truck drivers and the impacts of evening television binge-watching will come under the spotlight in new University of Otago research being funded by the Health Research Council.
The council announced three groups of funding this week with 11 University of Otago researchers receiving just under $2.9 million.
Senior Research Fellow at the University of Otago’s Injury Prevention Research Unit, Dr Rebbecca Lilley, will receive $245,736 to assess the feasibility of a national survey of New Zealand truck drivers.
Truck drivers are a neglected occupational group, she explains. “International evidence identifies truck drivers are at higher risk of adverse health and injury events due to poor health, attributed to unsatisfactory working conditions.”
In New Zealand there is little knowledge at a national level about the nature and distribution of health and safety risks for trucks drivers, or their likely impact on health and injury outcomes.
Dr Lilley’s research will assess the feasibility of a method to survey New Zealand truck drivers using an international survey tool.
Meanwhile, Dr Meredith Peddie, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Human Nutrition, receives an emerging researcher first grant of $203,305 to assess whether evening sitting habits and binge-watching television impacts our health.
Long periods of sitting has been associated with increased risk of diseases such as diabetes, but performing regular activity breaks throughout the day can help to reduce this risk. However, it is not known if performing regular activity breaks in the evening has the same effects, despite the fact that in the evening we often eat a large meal and then sit for long periods watching TV.
Dr Peddie will investigate what happens to blood sugar levels and sleep when people interrupt their evening sitting and watching television with short bursts of activity.
Her previous studies have investigated the effects of interrupting daytime sitting with short bouts of activity. She says this study will extend on that work and begin to translate laboratory research findings into practical simple solutions for incorporating regular activity breaks into everyday life.
University of Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie says with the global pandemic we are facing, support for health research has never been more important.
“The Health Research Council is a vital enabler of research to improve the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders, and we are very proud that our research has been generously supported in these rounds.
“The emerging researcher grants support the future leaders in health research and delivery, and the diversity of this group and their projects is to be celebrated. Likewise, the feasibility studies and consolidation grants we have been awarded will help support the ongoing aspirations of established researchers.”
Emerging first researcher grants
Dr Divya Adhia, Department of Surgical Sciences
Novel non-invasive neuromodulation treatment for chronic low back pain
36 months, NZD$209,995
Chronic low back pain is a disabling condition associated with huge economic costs. Current available treatments demonstrate minimal benefits, warranting the need for new, innovative therapies. Dr Adhia will evaluate the feasibility, safety and efficacy of a novel non-invasive brain stimulation technique, targeting multiple brain regions simultaneously, for modulating pain experience in people with chronic low back pain.
Dr Haizal Hussaini, Faculty of Dentistry
Interrogating immunotherapy for dental pulp therapy and management
36 months, NZD $206,045
Dental caries is a prevalent chronic disease that affects one in three adults in New Zealand. Caries destroys tooth structure and will progress to dental pulp infections and pain. This project will explore the ability of a new immunotherapeutic molecule in limiting pulp inflammation and promote pulp regenerative processes.
Dr Megan Leask, Department of Biochemistry
Decoding GWAS to combat renal disease in Māori and Pacific people
24 months, NZD $249,978
Chronic kidney disease and gout disproportionately affect Māori and Pacific people compared to other populations in New Zealand. The aim of this project is to identify Māori and Pacific specific variants that are biologically informative for chronic kidney disease and gout prevention and management in these populations. Dr Leask hopes to be able to identify clinically important and disease-relevant Māori and Pacific-specific genotypes.
Dr Sunali Mehta, Department of Pathology
Comprehensive pan-cancer characterisation of uncommon TP53 mutations
24 months, NZD $239,631
There is a continuous need to identify patients with aggressive disease and find therapies they are most likely to benefit from. TP53 is a commonly mutated gene in cancer but it remains to be understood how it affects cancer. This study aims to carry out comprehensive analysis of data from about 10,000 tumours to understand how these uncommon p53 mutations contribute to cancer progression. The study will provide insights into the contribution of uncommon p53 mutations to cancer and identify clinical management strategies for these cancers.
Michelle Munro, Department of Physiology
Calsequestrin as a target to restore calcium balance in atrial fibrillation
24 months, NZD$246,380
Atrial fibrillation is a serious condition in which there is abnormal rhythm in the atria of the heart. This increases the risk of stroke, with these patients having a high mortality rate and reduced quality of life. Unfortunately, many patients with atrial fibrillation show limited improvement with current treatment options. The project aims to investigate a new target for treating atrial fibrillation.
Dr Meredith Peddie, Department of Human Nutrition
Taking a break from Netflix: The effect on glycaemia and sleep
24 months, NZD $203,305
We spend most of our day sitting. Sitting has been associated with increased risk of diseases such as diabetes but performing regular activity breaks (about 2 minutes of activity every 30 minutes) throughout the day can help to reduce this risk. However, it is not known if performing regular activity breaks in the evening has the same effects, despite the fact that in the evening we often eat a large meal and then sit for long periods watching Netflix. Dr Peddie’s project will assess the impacts of activity breaks throughout the evening on blood glucose, insulin and triglyceride levels after eating dinner, and the effects on sleep quality.
Dr Andrew Reynolds, Department of Medicine
Metabolites in plasma and urine as objective markers of dietary intakes
24 months, NZD $249,761
Although the impact of diet on health and disease is unquestionable, most of what we know about diet is derived from self-reported dietary intakes. Reliance on people self-reporting what they eat is a limitation as it is evident that dietary intakes may be under or over reported at different rates and to a varying extent over a person’s lifetime. The proposed project seeks to address this issue by measuring markers from plasma or urine samples.
Dr Catherine Wall, Department of Medicine, Christchurch
Preoperative exclusive enteral nutrition versus usual care in Crohn’s disease
24 months, NZD $180,375
Many patients with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease, will require gastrointestinal surgery to remove parts of their bowel. Malnutrition is common in Crohn’s disease and is a risk factor for poor surgical outcomes and reduced quality of life. This study will assess the feasibility of conducting a trial of an exclusive liquid diet or standard care on surgical complications. This will help determine the methods required for a large-scale trial of using a liquid diet prior to surgery, which would guide preoperative nutritional management in Crohn’s disease.
Feasibility study grants
Professor Marie Crowe, Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch
Tele-mental health delivery of psychotherapy for recurrent mood disorders
24 months, NZD $244,812
This project aims to evaluate the feasibility of delivering psychotherapy for recurrent mood disorders via teleconferencing. The intervention involves Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy which has a focus on improving occupational, cognitive, social and interpersonal functioning that is often impaired following an acute mood episode and can lead to subsequent episodes. The therapy has been found to be effective in improving functioning when delivered in-person, but it is not generally available throughout New Zealand. If the project proves feasible, Professor Crowe plans to deliver the intervention at a national level.
Dr Rebbecca Lilley, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine
Healthy and safe truck drivers, safer journeys: feasibility of a national survey
16 months, NZD $245,736
Truck drivers are a neglected occupational group. International evidence identifies truck drivers are at higher risk of adverse health and injury events due to poor health, attributed to unsatisfactory working conditions. There is little knowledge in New Zealand about the nature and distribution of health and safety risks for truck drivers, or their likely impact on health and injury outcomes. In this project, Dr Lilley proposes to undertake a national study and will assess the feasibility of this study using an international survey too.
Dr Louise Bicknell, Department of Pathology
A clinical research alliance for diagnosing genetic disorders in New Zealand
24 months, NZD $599,939
Human genetics has been transformed by the advent of high-throughput sequencing, and many countries have instigated national initiatives to deliver clinical-based exome sequencing as a first-tier test, often with a strong preclinical arm to drive further variant identification and disease gene discovery. In New Zealand, exomes ordered by clinical services currently rely on third-party providers for sequencing and analysis, creating in a shortfall in efficiency with no current avenue for detailed interrogation. This project seeks to address this unmet need, by establishing a clinical:research alliance to maximise diagnosis rates and clinical outcomes beyond what is possible within a prescribed clinical environment. We will combine clinically-obtained genetic data with the flexibility of research-based molecular genetics, undertaking both extended bioinformatic analysis for improved variant identification and functional assays as additional evidence to satisfy clinical criteria for pathogenicity. This project lays the foundation for a long-term national collaboration connecting clinical and research genetics.