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A good year and summer beckons

This year has sped by for the team at A Better Start E Tipu e Rea National Science Challenge. We’ve co-hosted a major research conference at Te Papa, advocated strongly for evidence-based policy and programmes in Wellington and the Science Board has confirmed continued funding for 2019-2024. More than a 100 researchers are now engaged in Challenge research and the great thing is they come from across the country and across a broad range of research disciplines. Together we are creating a substantial body of work that could never be achieved without the good will and understanding of the many communities and frontline service providers we work with.

Meri Kirihimete me te Hape Nū Ia nga mihi o te tau hou

Wayne Cutfield, Gail Gillon, Barry Taylor (from left)
A Better Start National Science Challenge Directorate

A Better Start funding confirmed to 2024

A Better Start National Science Challenge, hosted at the Liggins Institute, has secured $20.5m funding to continue its mission-led programme of innovative research to improve the potential of young New Zealanders to lead healthy and successful lives for a further five years from June 2019.
Challenge Director Professor Wayne Cutfield said, “We appreciate the confidence shown in the quality of Challenge science by the Science Board and our funder, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.”
To date, A Better Start has invested more than $14m on four strategic research programmes and aligned research. The Challenge’s four research programmes are Healthy Weight, Resilient Teens, Successful Learning, with Big Data, an enabling theme working across all Challenge research.


Looking ahead: Future Strategy 2019-2024

With funding confirmed, A Better Start has published its Future Strategy 2019-2024. Developed through a nationwide series of workshops and in-depth engagement with key stakeholder organisations, the strategy has at its heart three key priorities that underpin all our activity: Equity of outcomes, Delivering Impact and Better Integration. Three new research projects highlight the impact of these priorities. The first is a committment with Healthier Lives and Ageing Well, our sister challenges in the health space, to jointly fund a innovative  $1.5m life course project that harnesses the expertise of the three challenges. The second is a major new funding committment of up to $2m to fund high-quaity Maori and Pasifika-led research projects that are aligned with the Challenge three key themes, Healthy Weight, Resilient Teens and Successful Learning. The third project is an across theme team looking at the value of healthy sleep as part of what our tamariki should have to achieve success in life.

He Ora te Whakapiri conference draws more than 200 delegates

More than 200 delegates attended He Ora te Whakapiri, a major conference on life course research jointly hosted by A Better Start and its fellow health focussed National Science Challenges, Healthier Lives and Ageing Well at Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington on 18 October.
In her opening address, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser Professor Juliet Gerrard (pictured) said the conference was an important step to creating a stronger collaborative response to the non-communicable diseases, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases, that account for the majority of all deaths in New Zealand. She said: “This situation is not unique to New Zealand. These are global problems. But to tackle them we need to find New Zealand answers.”
Check out our highlights video and the conference presentations now available for download for those who could not attend. 

Testing learning tools in Samoa

Challenge research Saili Aukuso has recently returned from Samoa where she collected data on 100 6-year-old Samoan children. She used phonological awareness (PA) assessment in Samoan which is building upon the earlier assessments, that were developed in English and Te Reo Māori for the Challenge. There was an oral language task where children were asked to retell a story in their own words. An example of the children’s writing was also collected, so the team can see how children’s performance on the PA task and the oral language task is associated with the spelling and depth of language/content used in their writing. The work will help us understand how children with Samoan as their first language respond to the tools before we trial them with bilingual Samoan-English speakers in New Zealand.

Vision Mātauranga leader Professor Angus Macfarlane honoured 

 Professor Angus Macfarlane is one of twenty new Fellows and three Honorary Fellows elected to the Academy of the    Royal Society Te Apārangi for their distinction in research and advancement of science, technology or the humanities. The Royal Society proclaims that they are world leaders in topics that include, in the humanities, global justice and migration, public economics, sociocultural theory, intellectual property and constitutional law. They will be inducted early next year, 100 years after the first 20 Fellows were inducted in 1919. Chair of the Academy and Royal Society Te Apārangi Vice President Richard Blaikie says “The diverse backgrounds and multiple areas of expertise of the newly-elected Fellows adds to the breadth of knowledge held collectively by the Academy, which supports the wider work to inform New Zealanders on matters of public importance.” .

Challenge researcher named Honorary Senior Research Fellow

Dr José Derraik has been appointed as an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Children's Hospital at Zhejiang University School of Medicine (Hangzhou, China). Dr Derraik has been visiting Hangzhou and developing a close collaboration with Prof Jun-Fen Fu and her team at the hospital as the recipient of the New Zealand‒China Non-communicable Diseases Emerging Researcher Travel Fellowship.
Dr Derraik’s Honorary appointment recognises his valuable contribution to this international collaboration which has already resulted in the submission of a Health Research Council grant application, the acceptance of two poster presentations at large international conferences (European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology and Asia Pacific Paediatric Endocrine Society), and the preparation of two manuscripts. Dr Derraik is working with Professor Jun Fu’s team on a prediction model based on data from a large cohort of children. The model would enable earlier treatment and advice to families.

Student scholarship to work on Ngāti Whātua Orākei project

 Hannah Rapata, (Ngai Tahu),a nutrition student, has been awarded a Summer Research Scholarship from A Better Start – National Science Challenge for the project "Understanding obesity in Māori children: studies within Ngāti Whātua Orākei". The scholarship is valued at NZ$ 6000 and it will cover a period of 10 weeks. Hannah will be based at the Liggins Institute, assisting with the partnership project between Ngāti Whātua Orākei and A Better Start. Specifically she is working with members of the Challenge Big Data team. 

A new addition to the research community at A Better Start

Amy Scott (our wonderful project manager of the ABS Literacy and learning and her husband Paddy welcomed wee Nikau Theodore Scott to their family in October. Given the Challenge mission, we are certain that Nikau will be treated to a better start – especially under older sister Ivy’s guidance. Amy will be back with us from March 2019.

Did you watch The Good Sh#t?

A three-part documentary The Good Sh#t screened on Three recently about a novel experiment at
the Liggins Institute featuring a team led by Challenge Director Professor Wayne Cutfield. The documentary, which rated well, followed the team conducting a clinical trial to see whether a gut bugs transfer – already used to (Gut bugs researcher Thilini Vidanelage
treat a severe form of diarrhoea - could also treat obesity. It followed teenagers affected by obesity who took capsules of healthy, lean people’s poo in the hope it would radically improve their health. Studies show if you take the gut bacteria from a thin mouse and put it in a fat mouse, the mouse gets thinner - and scientists are hopeful the same could be true of humans.            

Recent publications

Schluter P.J., Audas R., McNeill B., Taylor B., Milne B. and Gillon G. (2018). The efficacy of preschool developmental indicators as a screen for early primary school-based literacy interventions. Child Development. [Epub ahead of print] doi: 10.1111/cdev.13145. [IF: 3.779]
Schluter P.J., Kokaua J., Tautolo el-S., Richards R., Taleni T., Kim H.M., Audas R., McNeill B., Taylor B. and Gillon G. (2018). Patterns of early primary school-based literacy interventions among Pacific children from a nationwide health screening programme of 4 year olds. Scientific Reports, 8(1):12368. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-29939-w. [IF: 4.122]
Kim, H. M., Schluter, P. J., McNeill, B., Everatt, J., Sisk, R., Iusitini, L., Tautolo, E. S., Taleni, T. & Gillon, G. (2018). Predicting early literacy success among Pacific children aged 6 years in New Zealand: findings from the Pacific Islands Families (PIF) Study. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. Under review.
Copyright © 2017 A Better Start National Science Challenge All rights reserved.

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