Research leader raises its profile

A medical foundation goes public to gain backing, reports Nicola Brennan-Tupara .

A Waikato-based research foundation which helped prevent deaths from meningococcal disease and discover that broccoli can help kill bladder cancer is looking to amp up its research and save more Waikato lives.

The Waikato Medical Research Foundation - based at Waikato Hospital - has been quietly helping to fund medical research for almost 30 years.

But with an increasing amount of worthwhile funding proposals arriving on their doorstep, and no government funding available, they're needing more and more money to sustain the demand.

Once content to lay low and beaver away at projects in the rooms of the Waikato Clinical School, foundation chairman Dr Noel Karalus said now was the time to get the public on board.

"The ultimate aim is to improve the medical care of people in the Waikato," the respiratory specialist said.

The foundation has $1.3 million in funds, but wants to boost that to $5m.

Dr Karalus said research had shown that patient outcomes improved when they were part of a clinical trial because of the focused attention on them.

But that care also flowed on to the doctors' other patients.

"And also if you fund someone's research, they're more likely to stay, or come back to work here."

They'd had several staff do just that and many other success stories.

They helped fund infectious disease physician Dr Graham Mills to trial a blood test to diagnose meningococcal disease more quickly by using a special blood test, preventing deaths.

They also gave funds to Hamilton scientist Rex Munday to discover that eating broccoli sprouts could prevent bladder cancer by 50 per cent.

Dr Karalus said the public wasn't really aware that the Waikato had an academic centre - a branch of the Auckland Medical School.

"But every year we have 100 clinical students here [at Waikato] and 20 in Rotorua.

"But to teach them you need academics . . . to get academics, they need to be able to do research to keep them on the ball and up to speed.

"That's where the research money comes in."

The school currently has five PhD students a year, but the foundation wants to increase that to eight.

Dr Karalus said people often assumed the government funded such research projects.

"But the Health Research Council has a limited pot of money too and very little of it comes to the Waikato to be honest."

At the moment the foundation had, thanks to Trust Waikato matching them dollar for dollar, about $130,000 a year it could use to fund projects.

"But the maximum we usually give per project is $30,000 because we like to spread it around and encourage young researchers - help get them on the road.

"At the moment we can only fund people for a year. So if it's a three year project [like PhDs are} we have to tell them to come back next year to see if we have enough money."

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Waikato Times