The HCOCT Successful 2020 Research Applications

The Healthcare Otago Charitable Trust 2020 Successful Research Applications 

"Improving Sleep for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder” 

Dr Gloria Dainty2

Dr Gloria Dainty

Approximately 1 in 100 people in New Zealand have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Up to 80% of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder suffer from sleep disturbance compared to 25% in typically developing children. 

This can be one of the most difficult aspects of management and can have impacts on behaviour and growth. Improving health outcomes for those with this chronic condition is an important area of health research. Recent evidence from overnight sleep EEG recordings of these children indicates they may have a very low propensity for sleep. In adults, this can be improved through increased exercise.  Children with Autism also display lower baseline levels of physical activity. 

This research will investigate whether an exercise intervention will improve sleep quality for children with Autism. The research involves an exercise intervention delivered over a six week period, looking at its effects on sleep.  The effects on growth and behaviour will also be explored.  The study will provide important information regarding the management of children with Autism.

"Novel non-invasive neuromodulation for major depressive disorder"

dirk de ridder

Dirk De Ridder

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a disabling condition worldwide (NZ prevalence: 16.6 percent, i.e. 650,000 adults in 2017/18) and is associated with huge economic costs (~$12b). Although, treatments have been refined over time, meta-analyses demonstrates little to no improvement in ~50% of cases with MDD; thus warranting the need for new targeted innovative treatments. In individuals with MDD, brain-imaging studies demonstrate abnormal synchronised electrical activity in specific brain regions, resulting in integration of suffering into the self-identity of people with MDD, and subsequent treatment resistance. Targeting those key brain regions may produce clinical benefits. The proposed proof-of-concept study will evaluate the effect of a novel, non-invasive, brain stimulation (neuromodulation) technique, to specifically desynchronise the abnormal activity between the key brain regions, for detaching suffering from the self-identity, and determine its associations with clinic outcomes in individuals with MDD. The outcomes of this work will help to design a large randomised controlled clinical trial, to test the short and long-term clinical benefits of this novel brain stimulation intervention when compared to usual care.

“A new combination immunotherapy to fight bowel cancers in southern New Zealand.”

fleming beach cropped

Dr Nicholas Fleming

Otago, Southland and South Canterbury have the highest rates of death due to bowel cancer in New Zealand, which are approximately 25% higher than the national average. In a study of 192 patients from the region, we recently identified two genetic markers that appear to correlate with severity of the disease, and which are well placed to predict responsiveness to an emerging class of cancer drugs called the immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs).

Importantly, the markers also point to a further drug that may cooperate with ICIs to increase the number of patients for whom the therapeutics may be applicable. However, to advance this new option to the clinic, a better understanding of how the markers work within cancers is required, including the identification of the immune system components that contribute. We will now elucidate these important details using a multi-tiered approach.