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Cure Kids announces funding for nine new research projects

09 March 2023

Cure Kids announces funding for nine new research projects

09 March 2023

$1m in Cure Kids funding to enable nine research projects tackling pressing child health issues in New Zealand

Cure Kids, the largest charitable funder of child health research in New Zealand, recently announced funding for nine new research projects designed to improve health outcomes for tamariki. After receiving a record number of applications, and completing a rigorous process of peer review, Cure Kids asked its Medical & Scientific Advisory Committee to recommend which of the 41 proposals should be funded. As a result, Cure Kids awarded nine Grants totaling $1 million.

Frances Benge, Chief Executive of Cure Kids, says New Zealand researchers proposed a range of ideas in response to major paediatric health conditions.

“These projects represent a high level of innovation in child health research that could have a significant positive impact on some of the most pressing health issues facing Kiwi children. These newly funded projects follow significant breakthroughs over more than 50 years of support from Cure Kids, and we’re looking forward to seeing this research make a further difference for children in Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world.”

This round of grants sees a wide range of focus areas, from a potential new treatment for children with an aggressive form of brain cancer, to investigating how enrolment of pēpi Māori in primary care could improve immunisation rates, and adapting an international suicide prevention campaign with a kaupapa Māori approach. This year one project has an international focus, with researchers investigating ways to reduce violence against children in Tonga.

“After 52 years, $60 million of funding and over 700 research projects for child health research in New Zealand, we hope Kiwis can see the impact their donations have had and will continue to have for our tamariki,” says Benge.

The nine research projects include:

  • Opportunities for Primary Care action to improve immunisation of pēpi Māori. Dr Anna Howe and Dr Amber Young will partner with Hāpai te Hauora to explore how the health sector can be more responsive to ensure that whānau receive vital support and information to help them care for their newborn babies. This research aims to increase the number of whānau enrolled with primary healthcare providers, to protect Māori children from vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • Designing a diagnostic test for brain injuries in preterm babies. Associate Professor Mhoyra Fraser’s research aims to identify which babies are at risk of brain injuries due to oxygen deprivation during pregnancy or at birth. The research will seek to identify a panel of markers that can aid early detection, and thus better inform primary healthcare teams on appropriate preventative and therapeutic approaches to prevent or reduce brain injuries in preterm babies.
  • Developing a new treatment for children with brain cancer, by Professor David Barker and Dr Lisa Pilkington. Glioblastoma multiforme is the most aggressive form of brain cancer – children with this disease survive on average less than 2 years after they are diagnosed. The researchers are working on a new treatment that would target brain tumours to extend life for children who have this devastating disease.

  • Collaborating on a monitoring system for child protection in Tonga. This research is designed to reduce the country’s high rates of violence against children. Dr Fiona Langridge and Dr Seini Taufa are co-designing a data-monitoring system based on international best practice and adapted specifically for Tonga to support ongoing efforts to ensure care and protection for children.
  • Developing a safer test for joint and bone infections in children, led by Dr Amy Scott-Thomas. This study aims to create a new non-invasive test for bone and joint infections. The technique should reduce stress and trauma for children being tested by avoiding needles. If the study is successful, it should also enable faster diagnosis, and targeted treatments that should minimise development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Enhancing treatments for severe bone infections in children, led by Associate Professor Simon Swift. The researchers have shown that a protein found in milk, lactoferrin, has properties which could boost the effectiveness of antibiotic treatments. They will combine the lactoferrin with nanoparticles to test whether it might be safe for use during surgery for children with acute haematogenous osteomyelitis, a severe bone infection.
  • Trialing shorter treatments for preschool children with asthma, by Dr Alexandra Wallace. Children with asthma are often treated with three days of oral steroids, but recent evidence suggests that children younger than five years might only need one day of steroid medication to treat wheeze. Dr Alexandra Wallace is working with an international group of collaborators to compare treatment durations. If they prove that a one-day course is effective, guidelines will change to shorten and simplify treatment and reduce the risks of side effects.

  • Testing eyesight for 7-year-olds, by Dr Rebecca Findlay. Because current screening tests do not always detect eye problems such as refractive error, many children start school without the glasses that could help them to read and learn. This research will test 7-year-olds for refractive error and assess whether issues with their eyesight have affected their reading, learning, or development. The broader goal is to improve national vision screening and eye-care, so that children can get help for treatable eye problems.

  • Adapting online tools to enable safe communication about self-harm and suicide, led by Associate Professor Sarah Hetrick and Dr Tania Cargo (Ngāti Maru, Ngāti Manu, Ngāpuhi). The researchers propose to adapt an online tool called #chatsafe to help rangatahi, young people in New Zealand communicate online about self-harm and suicide without the risk of imitative suicidal behavior imitation. They’ll convene expert panels that include rangatahi, young people and Māori to develop a culturally safe version of #chatsafe.

Cure Kids is currently funding about 75 research projects totalling $8 million in grants, to solve child health conditions including childhood cancers, infectious diseases, mental health issues, and genetic and developmental disorders.

“Research never rests. There is still so much to do, but we are proud to be supporting the potential for the next breakthroughs in child health research right here in Aotearoa New Zealand,” says Benge.