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Heart Foundation research funding hits $70 million in 50th Year

The Heart Foundation announced $4.3 million dollars of funding today for heart research and specialist training for New Zealand cardiologists in 2018, bringing the total awarded by the charity since its formation in 1968, to more than $70 million.

Gerry Devlin, Heart Foundation Medical Director says the organisation was particularly pleased to award an extra $1 million in recognition of its 50th Anniversary Year, which means more funding than ever before.

“This year, we received a number of high quality research applications across the whole cardiovascular health bench-to-bedside spectrum; basic science, public health, prevention and patient management,” says Devlin.

“Our intent is not only to support research which will improve cardiovascular care globally, but  also address New Zealand-specific issues with several of this year’s grants. These include a vaccine that could potentially prevent rheumatic fever in New Zealand, a kaupapa Māori nutrition research project for cardiovascular health, and the ongoing development and assessment of chest-pain pathways in rural communities.”

The vaccine project could see Kiwi kids going to the doctor for a teaspoon of special yoghurt to protect against rheumatic fever-related heart damage or premature death.

“Our vaccination strategy is quite unique as it uses a live, food-grade bacteria to produce and deliver the vaccine to protect against Strep A,” says Heart Foundation Fellow Jacelyn Loh from the University of Auckland.

Strep A causes a sore throat or skin infection and, untreated, can lead to acute rheumatic fever (ARF), rheumatic heart disease (RHD), permanent heart damage and premature death.   

Mrs Erina Korohina of Toi Tangata received this year’s Heart Foundation Māori Cardiovascular Research Fellowship, and Dr Anna Rolleston from Tauranga’s Centre for Health has been awarded a $150,000 project grant – both for a new project on the barriers, enablers and solutions around healthy nutrition for Māori.

Deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) among Māori are more than twice that of non-Māori, and Māori are more than 1.5 times as likely to be hospitalised for the disease.

“From my many years working in Māori Health, particularly community development in Tai Tokerau, I personally witnessed what the statistics tell us – there is an equity gap in CVD prevalence between Māori and non-Māori,” says Korohina.

“I saw that the programmes that didn’t work for Māori are those that don’t respond to a Māori world view. This new research funding and my Heart Foundation Fellowship means we will continue to build the evidence-base to show kaupapa Māori and co-design nutrition programmes actually work.”

Rolleston agrees and says their approach is unique, as they will engage the whole whānau in a “bottom-up” process. It will be “built by the people, they will have ownership, so it is much more likely to be successful than if we just brainstormed around a table.”

This year’s funding includes 14 Fellowships and scholarships, 10 project grants, 7 small project grants, five travel grants, and two ‘grant-in-aid’ grants. Five summer studentships were also awarded to the Medical Schools at the University of Auckland and the University of Otago. 

See full list of grants awarded