A simple blood test could replace the need for colonoscopies in children with inflammatory bowel disease, while a new psychological therapy for bipolar disorder is being investigated.  

These are two of the six research projects soon to be underway thanks to $651,597 in funding announced today by the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation. 

The Major Project Grants funding round takes place annually, but this year, for the first time in CMRF’s 63-year history, all the recipients are women.   

The innovative projects span a wide range of specialist subject areas, including mental health, brain research, child health research and heart disease.  

Dr Katie Douglas, a research associate professor and registered clinical psychologist at the University of Otago, Christchurch will receive $101,777 to support her two-year research project investigating a new psychological treatment for bipolar disorder.   

Called Behavioural Activation Therapy, the treatment is commonly used to help people experiencing depression, but new research overseas suggests it could be just as effective at treating bipolar disorder.   

The condition affects nearly 2% of all Kiwis, but rates are double for Māori, says Dr Douglas.   

“Unfortunately, most people with bipolar disorder cannot access psychological therapy in Canterbury, or throughout New Zealand. Medication can help, but having a qualified therapist to support patients is critical for long-term recovery.”   

Dr Douglas says getting access to specialist mental health services can be challenging, and those who are accepted for treatment usually don’t get the help they need long-term.   

“It’s really disheartening because what we know about bipolar disorder is that it’s a lifelong condition. It’s chronic and it’s relapsing so there does need to be long-term psychological input for these people, so they know how to manage their condition.”   

Twenty people with bipolar disorder will be recruited to take part in the project. They’ll receive therapy over a period of six months, with assessments carried out before and after to determine the trial’s success.   

The therapy will be adapted to incorporate Māori models of health, says Dr Douglas.   
“Ensuring the treatment is culturally responsive is key, especially given rate of Māori affected by bipolar disorder is disproportionally higher than the rest of the community.”  

Dr Teagan Edwards, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Otago, Christchurch has been awarded $109,992 to investigate whether a simple blood test could replace the need for more invasive testing in children with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).   

More than 20,000 New Zealanders have IBD, with up to a quarter diagnosed as children or adolescents.   

“Typically, when a child presents to their doctor with signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease they’re put through a barrage of tests, including blood and faecal tests, but the ones that are currently available don’t always give clinicians a full understanding of what’s going on,” says Dr Edwards.   

Colonoscopies are often used to paint a clearer picture, but Dr Edwards believes there could be a less-invasive solution.   

Through her two-year project she’ll assess the suitability of a new blood test that measures the level of myeloperoxidase, an enzyme produced by immune cells, to detect the amount of inflammation happening inside the body.   

“If we had a blood test that could accurately reflect disease severity in children with inflammatory bowel disease, we could reduce the number of colonoscopies they require and enable earlier diagnosis and more effective disease monitoring. This ultimately means these children can spend more time out of the hospital and enjoying their childhoods,” Dr Edwards says. 

Canterbury Medical Research Foundation Chief Executive Melissa Haberfield says the calibre of this year’s Major Project Grant applicants was extremely high, and the research projects that have been submitted are testament to the exceptional talent of Canterbury researchers.  

“Canterbury is home to some of the world’s most innovative and highly recognised health and medical researchers. Today we celebrate six incredible women who are leading research projects that we anticipate will create better health and wellbeing outcomes for the people of Canterbury and the world,” says Melissa. 

From L-R: Dr Teagan Edwards, Dr N. Amy Yewdall, Dr Katie Douglas, Dr Katherine Donovan. Not pictured: Dr Vanessa Morris, Dr Louise Paton

Other recipients of the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation’s Major Projects Grants are:  

Dr Vanessa Morris, granted $110,000 for research into how tear drops can aid in an early diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. Dr Morris is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Canterbury.  

Dr Louise Paton, granted $109,843 to research the link between what we eat, how our body metabolises energy and heart disease. Dr Paton is a Research Fellow at the University of Otago, Christchurch 

Dr N. Amy Yewdall, granted $110,000 to investigate the biomolecular interactions leading to disease progression in Acute myeloid leukaemia. Dr N. Amy Yewdall is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Canterbury.  

Dr Katherine Donovan, granted $109,985 to investigate whether an integrated group treatment could support well-being in adolescents impacted by the March 15 attacks. Dr Donovan is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago, Christchurch.  

Stay in touch with CMRF

// Get all the latest news and insights to your inbox