Research for Life funds projects on vaccines, strokes, cancer, and maternal health

Four Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington researchers have received funding in the first Research for Life funding round for 2020.

Research for Life funds research by early-career researchers that will advance the quality of healthcare in the Wellington region and beyond.

Around $40,000 of the $105,810 and four of the eight grants awarded went to University researchers to study vaccines, strokes, cancer, and the effect of viral infections during pregnancy.

PhD student Theresa Pankhurst received $9200 to help develop new influenza vaccine strategies that use innate-like T cells as adjuvants in mucosal vaccines (vaccines administered in mucosal areas, like the nose). The aim of Theresa’s research is to develop a safe and effective influenza vaccine that can be delivered through the nasal area.

Research assistant Freya Harrison from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences received $11,750 for the study of brain health changes as a result of a stroke and the validation of a new, portable brain health monitoring device. It is believed that this device can replace conventional MRI scans, providing stroke diagnostic and monitoring capabilities to rural and impoverished areas. Currently only seven percent of Kiwi stroke patients receive active treatment in time due to the inaccessibility of MRIs.

Dr Andrew Munkacsi from the School of Biological Sciences received $8762 to find new treatment avenues for cancer and investigate the role sphingolipids play in cancer. When defective, sphingolipids are involved in the onset and progression of many human diseases, but the molecular regulation of sphingolipid metabolism is not well understood in health or diseased cells. Dr Munkacsi’s research explores the genes and processes that regulate defects in sphingolipid metabolism that underlie many forms of cancer and identifies targets for drugs to treat cancers of this type, as well as understand how sphingolipid metabolisms function in healthy people.

Professor Bart Ellenbroek from the School of Biological Sciences received $11,000 for his work with Dr Lifeng Peng looking at how a maternal infection affects the brain of children. When pregnant people are infected with a virus, their unborn children have an increased risk of mental disorders later in life. Professor Ellenbroek and Dr Peng will investigate the protein changes caused by a viral infection and study whether exposure to an enriched environment can prevent these changes. Their results could pave the way for new therapies for schizophrenia, autism, and depression.

“Research for Life congratulates the successful applicants from this funding round. The research they are undertaking is innovative, well-conceived, and vital to achieving continuing improvements in health outcomes in the community,” says Associate Professor Rebecca Grainger, Chair of the Research for Life Research Advisory Committee.