Research aims for easier breathing

Last updated 05:00 21/12/2013

LIVE-SAVING STUDY: Wellington medical student Bridget Walker is spending her summer researching obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

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Overweight people may eventually breathe easier thanks to a $5000 research grant being used by Wellington medical student Bridget Walker.

The grant is for a 10-week study of the cause and treatment of obesity hypoventilation syndrome. Walker, an Otago University medical student in Wellington, says New Zealand's increasing obesity rates mean it is an important field of study.

OHS is a condition in which overweight people are not breathing enough to maintain normal levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in their blood, particularly when asleep.

"It's something that a lot of the people don't think about," Walker says. "They think about the diabetes and they think about the cholesterol, but they don't think about the fact that you can get really sick because you can't breathe properly."

She says further understanding of OHS and treatment is needed to provide more options for those patients for whom current treatments are not effective.

"We have many methods that are used to treat patients to try and make them better, but we don't always understand how they work."

The 21-year-old is conducting her research at the Centre for Transitional Physiology under the supervision of Shieak Tzeng, director of the centre, and associate professor Alister Neill who is the clinical director of The Wellsleep Centre at Bowen Hospital in Crofton Downs.

"For me it was that I would get to do research with someone really inspiring and would give me a taste of what research is like,' 'she said.

The funding for the study was donated by the Museum Art Hotel owner Chris Parkin in association with the Surgical Research Trust.

Walker is in her fourth year of a bachelor of medicine and a bachelor of surgery and said she was grateful to Parkin and the trust.

Trust founder Geoffrey Horne says it was looking for a creative research project for the $5000 grant.

"It was really important we chose a research project that could give a little bit back."

Walker hopes the results will lead to future exploration of OHS.

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- The Dominion Post


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