Close to $1 million of Cure Kids grants to enable New Zealand research tackling child health issues


Close to $1 million of Cure Kids grants to enable New Zealand research tackling child health issues

Cure Kids has today announced that 13 researchers will share close to $1 million for research projects designed to improve child health in vital areas such as neurological disorders, mental health, dental decay, blindness, respiratory issues, and sudden unexpected death in infancy.

Cure Kids annual contestable granting round invites New Zealand’s brightest minds to submit research projects designed to discover the causes of disease in children, to improve care for children with health issues, and to prevent and cure disease.

Submissions go through robust assessment processes to ensure funding is directed to the projects with the highest possible chance of improving the health of children. The process is led by an independent Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee (MSAC) — a group of the country’s leading child health researchers, who also call on international experts to provide peer reviews of the research proposals.

“This year’s recipients are working to address a wide range of health issues which New Zealand children face today,” says Cure Kids CEO Frances Benge.

“It is important for us to ensure every donor dollar is used wisely, and our rigorous assessment process ensures just that. Our donors can take great pride in the innovative research they are helping Cure Kids support.”

Projects range from proving the emergence of a new genetic disorder which  reduces brain size in children to a new non-invasive therapy for tooth decay, which affects nearly 40% of preschool children.

The 13 research projects to receive 2021 funding from Cure Kids are:


A study monitoring risk factors for sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI).

After a 29% decrease in mortality in the first year of life, attributed to the “Safe Sleep programme”, rates of SUDI have unexpectedly begun to rise again, especially for Māori infants. This study will investigate what might be causing this increase, to inform new national programmes to prevent SUDI. Find out more.

– Emeritus Professor Ed Mitchell, University of Auckland

A study evaluating a video game to support adolescent mental health.

This funding will enable a controlled trial of Match Emoji’s potential effects on anxiety, depression, stress, and low mood in young people. Find out more.

Mr Russell Pine, Victoria University of Wellington

An investigation into the link between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and delayed brain development.

The team will use a neurodevelopmental index to measure a possible difference in brain age between children with ADHD and those with typical development. The results will be used to improve screening, diagnosis, and treatment for children with ADHD. Find out more.

Associate Professor Lueders, University of Auckland

A new approach to treating neurodegenerative disorders including Krabbe disease.

This ground-breaking research will combine chaperone-mediated therapy with transition-state analysis technology to design tailor-made treatments for devastating disorders which currently have no treatment or cure. Find out more.

Dr Farah Lamiable-Oulaidi, Victoria University of Wellington

A study of whether a molecule called Nox4 can reduce calcium leak and improves muscle function for those with Duchene muscular dystrophy.

Despite being first identified in 1868, Duchene muscular dystrophy leads to progressive weakness and eventual cardiac and respiratory failure, and still has no readily available cure. This study will test a drug which is already in clinical trials for other diseases to target calcium leak in dystrophy, and therefore prevent damage and inflammation in the muscle. Find out more.

Dr Tanya Cully, University of Otago

The development of a non-invasive peptoid-based therapy for tooth decay, which affects nearly 40% of preschool children, and is higher for Māori and Pasifika children.

This project will test a biochemical process with targeted antimicrobial activity designed to prevent dental caries by remineralising damaged enamel. It would become an alternative approach to fluoride toothpaste and fluorinated tap water, which fail to prevent formation of dental plaque. Find out more.

Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, University of Auckland, in conjunction with University of Otago

Prevention of future blindness by development of a laser imaging platform for screening children.

This innovation is designed to enable accurate and inexpensive identification of children at risk of blindness. If myopia is detected at an early age, interventions can be used to prevent disease progression. Find out more.

Dr Ehsan Vaghefi, University of Auckland in conjunction with teams from Auckland DHB and Counties Manukau DHB

Research into a rare genetic disorder – a novel microcephaly gene which reduces brain size in children. 

This project will use zebrafish as an animal model of disease to prove that a New Zealand family have a unique disorder which has not been recorded previously. This study will explore how the newly identified gene disrupts brain development in this family and others like it. Find out more.

Dr Louise Bicknell, University of Otago

Research to ascertain if C-type natriuretic peptide is a marker of low fetal blood oxygen and fetal growth restriction.

Available tests do not accurately identify all cases of fetal growth restriction, which increases the risk of stillbirth and other serious health consequences. This study will test whether a hormone called C-type natriuretic peptide can be used to identify low oxygen content in the baby’s blood, and therefore enable targeted care for at-risk mothers and babies. Find out more.

Dr Mark Oliver, University of Auckland

Refining the combination of brain and eye gene therapy for the treatment of Batten disease, a fatal disorder that mostly affects children.

This study will test whether CLN5 gene therapy can prevent or restore retinal degeneration in sheep which have naturally occurring Batten’s Disease. If the results are positive, the next stage is an application to begin the first stage of clinical trials in humans. Find out more.

Dr Samantha Murray, Lincoln University

A Trans-Tasman trial of a bacterial lysate for reduction of wheeze in pre-schoolers.

Wheeze is among the most common causes of hospital admission in young children in New Zealand. This study will include 2,268 children from 42 hospitals in New Zealand and Australia to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of an oral bacterial lysate for reducing hospitalisation due to wheeze-associated hospitalisation in children aged1-6 years with recurrent wheeze. Find out more.

Professor Cameron Grant, University of Otago

A follow-up to a trial of different feeding strategies for babies born at moderate-to-late pre-term gestation.

Approximately 80% of all pre-term births are in this period, and evidence for optimal nutrition is needed. This grant will allow for the 2-year follow-up of babies from a feeding trial, to assess their neurodevelopmental outcomes and identify the best nutritional strategies to help ensure the best long-term health for pre-term babies. Find out more.

Professor Frank Bloomfield, University of Auckland

Improving the lives of children with hydrocephalus, an abnormal build-up of fluid around the brain.

Every year, around 100 New Zealand children are diagnosed with hydrocephalus, and have surgery to implant shunts. This team are developing a sensor to detect problems with the shunt as early as possible and improve care and treatment for these children. This study will test the sensor in adult sheep with hydrocephalus. Find out more about the project, and watch the real life story of Cure Kids’s ambassador Ben. 

Professor Simon Malpas, University of Auckland

A study of a device to improve feeding for premature babies needing intensive care for severe bowel disease.

About 7% of premature babies experience necrotising enterocolitis, which nearly always needs surgery. After the surgery, these babies need intensive support to get enough nutrition to keep them healthy. These researchers have developed a prototype device to improve feeding, reduce the length of hospitalisation after surgery, and improve recovery.

– Professor Greg O’Grady, University of Auckland