Wellington-based medical researchers have received $149,340 in Research For Life
’s first funding round for 2019. Ten researchers received a total of $119,021.92 to undertake innovative medical
research and 13 travel grants totalling $30,318.13 were approved to assist local researchers meet the cost of presenting
their research findings at international conferences.
Research For Life
funds innovative quality research undertaken by researchers in the early stages of their careers who, through their
work, will advance the quality of healthcare in the Wellington region and beyond.
The successful applicants for research grants were:
Dr Christina Baggott, a specialist respiratory medicine doctor currently undertaking a PhD in asthma at the Medical Research Institute of New
Zealand and Victoria University of Wellington, received $10,150 to research how asthma treatments can be improved for
Dr Davide Comoletti, a senior lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, and his team of researchers
received $14,000 to study reelin, a protein which is key to brain development and for which mutations have been
implicated in autism and schizophrenia.
Dr Lisa Connor, a lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, received $15,300 to investigate
the molecular cues shared between immune cells during the initiation of an allergic immune response.
Dr Darren Day, a senior lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, received $17,000 to
investigate whether altered serotonin uptake leads to changes in how serotonin modifies the activity of enzymes that
control how connections between neurons are made and broken.
Dr Brendan Desmond, a Masters student at the University of Otago, Wellington received $13, 834 to undertake research into ‘liquid biopsies’,
or blood tests which may aid in the earlier detection of bowel cancer.
Dr Joanna MacKichan, a senior lecturer in medical microbiology at Victoria University of Wellington, received $14,000 to examine the
bacterial pathogen Bartonella Quintana which causes trench fever, a globally prevalent infection associated with poverty
Dr Johannes Mayer, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, received $13,410.92 to undertake
research into intestinal parasite infections.
Terry O’Donnell, a PhD candidate at the University of Otago, Wellington, received 4,280 to advance research into the link between cold
housing and obesity. Mr O’Donnell’s PhD research will investigate the effect that temperature has on factors which cause
obesity. In particular, it will assess whether exposure to cold temperatures may be stimulating poor eating habits.
Dr Amber Parry-Strong, a Diabetes Research Fellow at Capital and Coast DHB, received $7,047 to continue further two previously completed
studies examining the effect of a lower carbohydrate diet (<100g per day) in people with type 1 diabetes.
Dr Abigail Sharrock, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Biotechnology in Professor Ackerley’s Microbial Biotechnology Research Group at Victoria
University of Wellington, received $10,000 to undertake research into the improvement of gene-delivery vectors for gene
directed enzyme prodrug therapy (GDEPT). GDEPT is a targeted anticancer strategy being developed to address the
limitations of current chemotherapies including unwanted associated side-effects due to low selectivity of
Travel Grants were awarded in this round to the following:
Natalie Hammond, a PhD candidate from Victoria University of Wellington, received a $1,500 travel grant to present her research
findings at the Yeast Lipid Conference (YLC) in Ljubljana, Slovenia in May 2019.
Cintya Del Rio Hernandez, a PhD student in the Chemical Genetics Laboratory at Victoria University of Wellington, received a $1,500 travel grant
to present her research findings at the Yeast Lipid in Ljubljana. Cintya’s research Conference at the Institut "Jožef
Stefan", the leading Slovenian scientific research institute located focuses on statins, one of the most prescribed
drugs worldwide used to control the levels of cholesterol. Her intention is to develop combination therapies to enhance
their efficacy against prostate and breast cancer.
Dr Naomi Brewer, from the Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, Wellington, received a $3,445 travel grant to present
her research findings at the World Indigenous Cancer Conference in Calgary, Canada. Naomi is an epidemiologist with
research interests in cancer and inequalities. The research she will be presenting investigates the acceptability
amongst Māori women of self-sampling for cervical-cancer screening.
Denise Steers, a PhD student at the Paediatric Department, Wellington Hospital/Suicide and Mental Health Research Unit at the
University of Otago, Wellington, received a $4,200 travel grant to present her findings to the second international
conference on Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Intersex at Lincoln University, United Kingdom this year. Steers'
research interest lies in the bioethics surrounding the health care provided for children born with a variation in sex
Jude Ball, a PhD candidate at the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago Wellington, received a $2,750 travel
grant to present her research findings in Poland this year at a thematic meeting of the Kettil Bruun Society for Social
Epidemiological Research on Alcohol. Jude's doctorate aims to describe and explain concurrent declines in adolescent
drinking, smoking, drug use and sexual activity that have occurred in New Zealand since 2000.
Dr Laura Ferrer-Font, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Cancer Immunotherapy Programme at the Malaghan Institute, received a $4,946
travel grant to present her research at the 34th Congress of the International Society of Advancement of Cytometry in
Vancouver this June.
Alistair Brown, a postdoctoral researcher in the Ackerley Lab at the School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington
was awarded a $2,000 travel grant to present his research at Enzyme Engineering XXV in Canada this year. Alistair’s
research focuses on the discovery and development of novel antibiotic drug candidates.
Kelsi Hall, a PhD student in the School of Biological Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington received a $2,000 travel grant
to present her research findings at the biennial Enzyme Engineering Conference in Whistler, Canada this year. Kelsi’s
research involves using directed evolution to evolve bacterial nitroreductases as a tool for targeted cell ablation.
This work offers prospects for the discovery of new drugs to combat human degenerative disease.
Theresa Pankhurst, a PhD student in the Cellular Immunology and Vaccination group at Victoria University of Wellington, received a $1,000
travel grant to showcase her research at the 19th International Congress of Mucosal Immunology meeting in Brisbane this
year. Theresa’s research goal is to develop effective adjuvant vaccines that provide long-lasting antibody-mediated
protection against pathogens that infect the mucosae.
Olga Palmer, a Masters student at Victoria University of Wellington, received a $1,469.13 travel grant to present her research
findings at the 19th International Congress of Mucosa I Immunology Meeting held in Brisbane this year. Olga's research
interest is about vaccination and the resulting immune response.
Kaitlin Buick is a Master of Biomedical Science candidate at Victoria University of Wellington and works in collaboration with the
Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and the Ferrier Research Institute. Kaitlin received a $1,000 travel grant to
attend the International Congress of Mucosal Immunology conference in Brisbane, Australia. Her thesis aims to
investigate a novel way to improve mucosal vaccinations, through activation of mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT)
cells in the lung.
Alvey Little, a PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington, is investigating how Bartonella Quintana subverts the immune
system by modulating host cells using a molecular syringe called a type IV secretion system. Alvey has received a $2,000
travel grant to assist him to present his research at the annual meeting of the American Society for Rickettsiology, an
organisation that fosters research on a wide range of vector-borne bacterial pathogens.
Dr Johannes Mayer received a $1,628 travel grant to present a novel technique of tissue preparation and high-dimensional flow cytometry
data at theInternational Conference of Mucosal Immunology in Brisbane this year.
Heidi Verhagen, a Masters student with the Rehabilitation, Teaching and Research Unit, University of Otago Wellington received an $881
travel grant to present her research at the Australian Society for the Study of Brain Impairment and the New Zealand
Rehabilitation Association Inaugural Trans-Tasman Conference in May 2019. Heidi, in her practice as a massage therapist,
developed a manual therapy treatment that aims to improve pain and function by assisting the expression of
non-intentional movements which are responses to hand pressure. Her research indicates non-volitional movement could be
a beneficial component of massage therapy treatments for chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Last year, Research For Life approved 11 research grants and 10 travel grants constituting a total of $203,698 available
Dr Rebecca Grainger, Chair of RFL’s Research Advisory Committee, said: “Research For Life congratulates the successful
applicants of this round of funding. The research they are undertaking is innovative, well-conceived and vital to
achieving continuing improvements in health outcomes in the community.”
The closing date for the next round of Research For Life grant applications - including travel grant applications – is
Friday, 13 September 2019.