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Sir Charles Hercus Fellow to study chronic stress

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posted by WM Admin on 20 November 2014

Health Research Council of New Zealand media release, 20 November 2014

The pressure of last-minute Christmas shopping can be stressful, but it’s the damaging effects on our bodies and brains from chronic or prolonged stress that’s the focus of a new health research fellowship announced today worth nearly $500,000.

Dr Karl Iremonger from the University of Otago has received a prestigious Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship from the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) as part of its 2015 Career Development Awards programme to determine what changes occur in the brain’s neurons after chronic stress.

Persistent exposure to stress has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders. It has also been shown to affect neurological function, including diminished fertility, impaired short-term memory, and an increased risk of anxiety and depression.

Dr Iremonger’s study will analyse changes in the form and structure of neurons in the hypothalamic region of the brain, as well as changes in electrical and chemical signalling in neurons before and after exposure to stress.

Many of the negative impacts of chronic stress on health are thought to be due to the elevated levels of glucocorticoid stress hormones that are secreted in response to chronic stress. While acute exposure to glucocorticoid stress hormones can be beneficial, persistently elevated levels are damaging.

“This research project aims to improve the therapeutic options for people suffering from chronic stress diseases by determining the neurological changes that drive persistently elevated levels of stress hormones,” says Dr Iremonger.

Also to receive a $500,000 Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship is Dr Maxim Petrov fromthe University of Auckland. Dr Petrov will provide new insights into pancreatogenic diabetes – a secondary form of diabetes that is believed to account for at least 10 per cent of diabetes in the western population. He will carry out prospective clinical studies to investigate changes in the hormones that regulate blood glucose in people who have been newly diagnosed with diabetes following hospitalisation for acute inflammation of the pancreas.

The HRC has awarded a total of $6.25 million in Career Development Awards for its 2015 annual funding round, including $2.2 million for Māori health research and $1.3 million for Pacific health research.

Continuing its commitment to supporting front-line clinicians, the HRC has funded six Clinical Research Training Fellowships for 2015. Those funded include Dr Melanie Lauti from the University of Auckland who will carry out a study to improve patient outcomes after bariatric surgery for obesity and its related illnesses.

“As bariatric surgery is a relatively new speciality, the outcomes after surgery are not as good as they could be. Counties Manukau District Health Board have the largest cohort of bariatric patients in New Zealand and have shown good weight loss after surgery, but a tendency for weight regain after one year,” says Dr Lauti.

“This study aims to improve outcomes for patients after bariatric surgery by creating an evidence-based care pathway. The randomised trial will answer whether a carefully designed care pathway that’s acceptable to patients and providers, and sustainable within the public health system, can reduce weight regain following bariatric surgery.”

HRC Board Chair Sir Robert Stewart, KNZM, says the HRC’s career development awards are an important way to foster the health research workforce in New Zealand.

“By targeting support to practicing clinicians and the most promising emerging researchers, we’re helping to ensure that the research workforce will be able to meet the needs of the health-care system and our unique population, both now and into the future,” says Sir Robert.


2015 HRC career development awards  (General awards category)
Read the lay summaries of all the successful career development award recipients.

Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship

Dr Karl Iremonger, University of Otago
Chronic stress induced adaptations in hypothalamic brain circuits
48 months, $489,062

Dr Maxim Petrov, The University of Auckland
New insights into pancreatogenic diabetes
48 months, $500,000

Clinical Practitioner Research Fellowship

Dr Ralph Stewart, Auckland DHB
Registry based clinical trials
60 months, $800,000

Clinical Research Training Fellowship

Dr Alistair Escott, The University of Auckland
Towards the treatment of toxic thoracic lymph in critical illness
36 months, $250,000

Dr Ryan Gao, The University of Auckland
In vitro and in vivo evaluation of bone graft substitutes for bone healing
24 months, $167,000

Dr John Hsiang, The University of Auckland
Hepatitis B, diabetes and outcomes
24 months, $167,000

Dr Melanie Lauti, The University of Auckland
Better outcomes after bariatric surgery: The BOBS study
24 months, $167,000

Dr Sumeet Reddy, Medical Research Institute of New Zealand
0.9% saline vs. Plasma-Lyte 148 ® for fluid therapy
24 months, $167,000

Dr Ellen Wang, The University of Auckland
Oxaliplatin induced corneal nerve microstructural changes
36 months, $250,000