Cure Kids announces more than $3 million for rheumatic heart disease



Cure Kids announces more than $3 million for research projects to help eradicate New Zealand’s “disease of poverty” – rheumatic heart disease

Cure Kids has today revealed the research projects which will benefit from its largest amount of funding towards a single health condition.

New Zealand’s largest charitable child health organisation is committing more than $3 million over 3 years in an effort to prevent and treat, and ultimately, stomp out rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.

Cure Kids CEO Frances Benge says this funding will enable six research projects, each with different but complementary objectives, to combat this urgent health issue.

“We don’t yet have a vaccine or an effective treatment, so innovative research is needed on tools to help eliminate this complex disease from our country.”

“We believe that in a developed nation like New Zealand, this preventable condition simply should not exist,” says Benge.

“Rheumatic fever disproportionately affects Maori and Pasifika – who make up 95% of new cases nationally. Several of Cure Kids’ research projects are specifically designed to address those inequalities.”

Rheumatic fever is the body’s auto-immune response to an infection of the skin or throat with Group A Streptococcus (e.g. strep throat). Rheumatic heart disease, or RHD, refers to the damage which this inflammation causes to the heart valves.  RHD is a serious long-term illness that can cause premature death in adults.

Cure Kids’ record commitment will fund research to design preventative interventions, improve access to care, and develop a diagnostic test, effective treatments, and a vaccine for Group A Streptococcus (which causes ‘strep throat’).

Dr Nikki Moreland, Senior Lecturer in Immunology and Biomedical Scientist at the University of Auckland, is one researcher funded by Cure Kids. Her work focuses on identifying biomarkers for rheumatic fever.

“There is no single, specific test for the diagnosis of rheumatic fever, so a quick diagnosis is not always possible. Identifying unique biomarker(s) present in rheumatic fever is an important first step to developing an accurate diagnostic test; something that is needed to speed up diagnosis,” says Dr Moreland.

Earlier research by Professor Michael Baker, with the support of Cure Kids’ funding, identified housing conditions – in particular household crowding – as a major contributing factor for RHD in New Zealand. Disease risk was also associated with damp and mould in houses, insufficient hot water for washing, and dietary factors. The Labour Party has pledged to invest an extra $39 million over 4 years into the Healthy Homes initiative.  But the need remains for urgent research to find practical solutions to prevent rheumatic fever and RHD, and to improve care for patients who are already living with the disease.

Six research programmes will receive Cure Kids funding:

  • Dr Nikki Moreland is using advanced laboratory methods to identify specific biomarkers for rheumatic fever, which will enable faster and more accurate diagnosis and care.
    Dr Jacelyn Loh’s laboratory is designing a vaccine that will have broad coverage of Group A Strep, and will be tested in clinical trials for safety and efficacy against the disease.
  • Dr Julie Bennett is collaborating with researchers in Australia to trial a high-dose longer lasting skin implant to improve the only currently available method to prevent RHD ‒ monthly penicillin injections.
  • Dr Anneka Anderson is piloting a patient-centred model of care to improve services for rangatahi Māori and Pasifika, by developing more appropriate ways to deliver monthly injections to prevent development of RHD.
  • Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu is working on a novel drug development pathway, in search of different chemical forms of penicillin that might yield new options for preventing RHD.
  • Associate Professor Nigel Wilson is studying the safety and efficacy of a well-known anti-inflammatory medication, hydroxychloroquine, for preventing damage to heart valves and therefore avoiding RHD.


Media interviews

Media interviews may be arranged with Cure Kids CEO Frances Benge and researchers. Please get in touch if you wish to schedule an interview.

 Media contact

Ashleigh Gilchrist | | 021 236 8324