The prevention and treatment of neurological disorders in New Zealand has suffered a blow with one of the country's leading research organisations losing much of its funding.
Brain Research New Zealand discovered last month that its status as a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) was not being renewed meaning it misses out on about $5 million worth of funding a year from June 2021.
Brain Research New Zealand co-director Professor Cliff Abraham said they were surprised and disappointed to find out they had lost their main source of funding and were still working through what it would mean for the future of the organisation.
"A large chunk of money dedicated to brain research has now disappeared," he said.
The decision has also disappointed an organisation that advocates for those living with dementia.
Alzheimers New Zealand chief executive Catherine Hall said the investment into research about neurological disorders in New Zealand including dementia was "woefully inadequate".
"If we're going to do better as a country for people living with dementia, we need to know more about dementia and that means research," she said.
Brain Research New Zealand, which is undertaking research into the causes and prevention of ageing-related neurological disorders, was set up in 2015 after being selected as a Centre of Research Excellence in the previous funding round.
The organisation had set up a national network of Dementia Prevention Research Clinics to help understand the causes, had scientists working to identify the mechanisms behind the diseases and how to treat them, established a training programme for early career researchers, and built partnerships with Māori communities and groups.
Neurological disorders like dementia, Parkinson's disease and strokes were a huge issue for New Zealand already and were only going to get worse over the next few years given the country's ageing population, Abraham said.
"Where's the work going to come from that will help New Zealand now and in the years to come? We've just lost a huge capacity for research in this important area."
Brain disorders currently affect one in five New Zealanders over 65 and it is expected that will increase to one in four by 2036.
Dementia alone affected more than 62,000 Kiwis in 2016 at a cost of almost $1.7 billion. It is projected that more than 170,000 people will be affected in 30 years time.
Abraham said the organisation would continue with its work and was now figuring out its priorities in order to keep up the momentum its projects had gained.
It was vital they continued the work that was under way in order to collect valuable longitudinal data, particularly in the Dementia Prevention Research Clinics, he said.
Abraham said they could look at working with community groups, government agencies and philanthropic organisations to help fund those but they would still have to cut costs.
"We're not going to get as much money as we have now, that's a given."
It was likely the organisation would not be able to retain all of its management staff, supervisors would have to find new funding for technicians and lab assistants and it was possible there may be a sinking lid policy for staff at the dementia clinics.
Hall said Brain Research New Zealand was unique in that it made an effort to collaborate with other universities, researchers and the community in a "real and meaningful way".
Hall said the dementia prevention clinics would ultimately provide very useful information on the early stages of dementia, the diagnosis and the journey.
She said Alzheimers New Zealand was also disappointed none of the CoREs funded this round had a neurology focus.
Of the 10 university research projects selected to share the $373m worth of funding from the Tertiary Education Commission as Centres of Research Excellence, two were new proposals while the other eight had received funding in the previous round.
The two new CoREs were Coastal People: Southern Skies which would see researchers from a range of disciplines working with communities to understand and address the issues that affect coastal ecosystems, especially climate change; and Healthy Hearts for Aotearoa New Zealand - Manaaki Mānawa would work in partnership with iwi, hāpu, whanau and aiga to create a world-class centre for research into heart and respiratory diseases.
The new funding round lasted until the end of 2028.