Top doctors call for more research dollars

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 05:00 01/04/2014
funding, scientific exploration
Chris Hillock/Fairfax NZ

FUNDING FOUNDATION: Cameron Buchanan, Noel Karalus and Linda Rademaker have a big role to play in attracting funding for vital scientific exploration.

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Cameron Buchanan and Linda Rademaker might not be researchers themselves, but they know the value of scientific exploration and study.

The pair share the job of chairing the Waikato Medical Research Foundation's "medical team of influence", a group comprising senior professionals from a range of disciplines, who are charged with reaching out to organisations, medical trusts and people throughout the region encouraging financial support and endorsement.

The pair both got involved with the foundation last year. Buchanan had been a specialist anaesthetist with the Waikato District Health Board for 20 years, while Rademaker's background was in general practice.

Both say they were enticed to become involved by the prospect of developing knowledge which could be used to improve and even save lives.

"It seemed to press a few buttons for me," said Rademaker, a past medical director of the Midlands Health Network. "Health is a jigsaw and research is a big part of that jigsaw."

However, given the financially formidable environment that exists for charitable organisations in this country at present, there is much more at stake than that.

"It is a real challenge to attract qualified medical practitioners to Waikato Hospital, and New Zealand in general," Buchanan said. "We are competing in an open market. The foundation acts as a big carrot for attracting talent - and talent attracts talent."

That snowball effect of drawing in top doctors and scientists was not the only benefit the foundation's existence provided.

"Patients involved in studies tend to get better care. It's something that is known as the Hawthorne Effect."

Organisations such as the foundation were likely to have a more and more important role in coming years because government funding for medical research was tipped to reduce. Therefore, raising the foundation's profile, as well as its funding pool, was of vital importance.

Although it is not widely known outside the hospital campus, the foundation has been helping fund medical research in the region for almost 30 years.

Each year the organisation invites research proposals from local researchers related to medical and health issues.

It has a capital fund of $1.3 million, but wants to boost this to $5m within the next 18 months since it has an ever-increasing number of worthwhile proposals to consider.

This is the daunting task Rademaker and Buchanan have been set, however foundation chairman Noel Karalus is adamant the pair are equal to the challenge.

Last year the organisation received 15 applications requesting a total of $341,000 - far more than the sum available.

With assistance from Trust Waikato - which matches the foundation dollar for dollar - the foundation distributed just under $162,000 among nine proposals from researchers at Waikato Hospital, the University of Waikato and AgResearch. The largest sum given was $26,000 and the smallest $5900.

The applications supported in 2013 may sound like a jumble of scientific jargon, but valuable work is being done.

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The successful applicants included proposed studies on whether the ulcer drug cimetidine can be used to block cancer metastasis; the identification of an optimal selenium compound for use with cancer therapies; the prevention of hypoglycaemia in newborns with oral dextrose; and the control of sexual dimorphism of skeletal muscle by growth hormone and the gonadal steroids.

As well as the group headed by the two doctors, a separate fundraising team comprising several prominent businesspeople has also been convened and is approaching the corporate and business community and gently encouraging their support.

To donate to the Waikato Medical Research Foundation visit its website, wmrf.org.nz and click on the "donate" tab.

- Waikato Times

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