Tomorrow's official opening of The Waharoa ki te Toi research facility at Kaitaia Hospital will be followed by a public event at 5pm, with an open invitation to all.

Official guests will include Professor Juliet Gerrard, the Prime Minister's Chief Science Adviser, Northland MP Matt King and Mayor John Carter.

The Moko Foundation-led Waharoa ki te Toi Research Centre facility at Kaitaia Hospital will not be officially opened until tomorrow afternoon, but research has already begun.
The first volunteers are undergoing tests over the last week.

The first study is part of a groundbreaking nationwide search for potential links between people's genetics and their risk of developing metabolic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Among the first volunteers for the study was Ezekial Raui, a trustee of the Moko Foundation and winner of a 2017 Queen's Young Leader's award.


The centre is also investigating the medical impacts of drivers for childhood obesity, such as sugar in the diet, as part of a national Sugar in Schools study.

The centre has been established as a partnership between the Moko Foundation and the Maurice Wilkins Centre, a national alliance of more than 150 scientists and clinicians focused on research into metabolic disease, cancer and infectious diseases.

"Other aspects of this research will be looking at what medications are the best for Maori, realising that patients respond differently, partly due to their genetics," Moko Foundation chairman Dr Lance O'Sullivan said.

"This information will allow us to offer healthcare customised to the individual."

Importantly, the research would be run by people of Kaitaia, in Kaitaia, for the people of Kaitaia and Muriwhenua, he said.

Waharoa ki te Toi was granted $500,000 as part of a nationwide research programme co-ordinated by the Maurice Wilkins Centre's Professor Peter Shepherd, formerly from Kaitaia, and funded by the Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand.

Professor Kathryn McPherson, chief executive of the HRC, said connection, collaboration and meaningful impact for New Zealanders were key goals of the recently announced New Zealand Health Research Strategy, and the council was very keen to see the results of the research, and the benefits that came from the partnership.

The health issues being investigated caused significant problems for communities like Kaitaia, and this was an opportunity to get ahead of the problem.

Dr O'Sullivan said this was the first of a number of projects the foundation planned to come from Kaitaia. Having moved some of its back office to Auckland, it also demonstrated the foundation's continued commitment to Kaitaia.

The research centre is supported by Northland DHB.

"This is one of a number of research partnerships that Northland DHB is involved in, and it is fantastic that it is based in the Far North," CEO Dr Nick Chamberlain said. "Delivering precise treatments based on our individual genetic characteristics is going to be a big part of our future, and this research is an exciting opportunity to further that knowledge and reduce the inequities in healthcare outcomes that are so prevalent in many communities throughout New Zealand."

It was also an opportunity for local clinicians to be involved in research that was relevant to their work. Clinical director Dr Joel Pirini (Te Uri o Tai — Pawarenga)), also employed by the Moko Foundation, said he was excited about applying this form of research to the local community.

"The ability to conduct research relevant to our community, in our community, is extremely important," he said.

"As a clinician I envision the day where I can sit and talk with a patient and say that this treatment, whatever it may be, will work best for you, and I know this because it has been proven right here."

Also involved are Conor O'Sullivan, who recently completed a Bachelor of Health Science degree majoring in population health, who said he was excited to be able to return to Kaitaia and apply his academic knowledge to his community, and Rhiaan Smith, a former Bay of Islands College student who has taken a gap year in medical studies for the project, who feels there is value in contributing to her community and her medical education.

Sir Hekenukumai Puhipi has been appointed patron of Waharoa ki te toi.

"Papa Hector is the most appropriate person to be our patron for this exciting work," Dr Pirini said. "Just like he used the stars and tides on his journey of cultural discovery, Waharoa ki te Ttoi will be searching for genetic variants or genetic stars that will allow us to chart a pathway to better health."