Research spanning the effects of hormones on a pregnant mother's brain to the potentially negative health effects that pets may have on families can begin, thanks to the latest round of funding for health projects.

A total of $78 million has been granted to the Health Research Council (HRC) in the latest Government funding round, Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce and Health Minister Tony Ryall announced today.

The funding will cover 50 new projects ($56m), four new programmes ($20m), and 14 emerging researcher first grants ($2.02m), and has increased significantly from last year due to the release of funds from maturing contracts.

One of the projects funded is part of a landmark three-year diabetes prevention trial across New Zealand, Australia, UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Spain and Bulgaria.


Professor Sally Poppitt from the University of Auckland will carry out the New Zealand arm of the trial, which aims to test whether a higher protein diet is more successful for weight loss and diabetes prevention than the current international best practice of a higher carbohydrate diet.

Other project recipients included Professor Tim Anderson from the University of Otago, Christchurch, who will carry out advanced brain scans, gene testing, and clinical evaluations in Parkinson's disease patients with mild cognitive impairment.

Some of the grants reflected the Government's strong focus on maternal health, pregnancy and early childhood.

One of those was from University of Otago, Dunedin, programme recipient Professor David Grattan, whose 'Healthy pregnancy, healthy babies' study will evaluate how specific pregnancy hormones induced changes in the mother's brain.

A top Maori scholar was awarded $1.2m for her research into Huntington's disease, which disproportionately effected Maori.

Dr Melanie Cheung hopes to develop a computer-based brain training programme to slow the onset of the degenerative disease, which causes brain cells to progressively die.

Huntington's is thought to be five times more prevalent in Maori than in the rest of the New Zealand population, and 10 times the world average, she said.

Other projects to receive funding include a study into how pregnancy hormones induce changes in the mother's brain to help her adapt to the physiological and metabolic demands of pregnancy, and the development of a tiny implant which could wirelessly transmit pressure and temperature readings from inside the brain.


"We're delighted to be able to fund more research contracts to support New Zealand's excellent health researchers who will advance our knowledge of health, improve health outcomes for New Zealanders, and provide access to the international health research arena," Mr Ryall said.

HRC board chairman Sir Robert Stewart said it was "very satisfying" to support such talented researchers.

"The outcomes from the diverse range of projects funded will benefit both the short and long-term health of New Zealanders."