Update on our contestable round
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Kia ora koutou 

We've had a busy but always enjoyable few months at A Better Start National Science Challenge. There has been an excellent response to our request for proposals to our contestable funding round, held in partnership with Cure Kids. The Diabesity Symposium we hosted along with our fellow challenge Healthier Lives and the Edgar Centre for Obesity and Diabetes Research attracted positive attention to a major health issue for New Zealanders, and young New Zealanders in particular.

Ka kite anō   

Wayne Cutfield, Challenge Director

Minister opens Diabesity Symposium

Science and innovation Minister the Hon Paul Goldsmith launched a major Challenge associated science event, The Diabesity Symposium,  presenting the latest research on the twin plagues of diabetes and obesity at the Clinical Education Centre at Auckland City Hospital on Friday 17 March.
A Better Start and the Healthier Lives National Science Challenges, with the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre organised the symposium. Minister Goldsmith said at the launch: “It’s great to see this level of collaboration across the health science system because we really need to work together to tackle some of these big challenges facing us in New Zealand.”
Diabesity is the umbrella term covering the many complex economic, health, social and cultural impacts that come with the rise of diabetes and obesity throughout the western world and Asia.
The evening before the symposium, the Clinical Education Centre was the venue for a packed public forum, The Cost of Sugar. Professor Wayne Cutfield,  Director of A Better Start introduced broadcaster Kim Hill who led a spirited discussion with three leading health experts: Professor Jim Mann, a world leader in human nutrition; Professor Jacqueline Rowarth, the chief scientist for the Environmental Protection Authority and epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely.
More than 250,000 New Zealanders are living with diabetes and one in four children are over- weight or obese, The Cost of Sugar public forum was broadcast by Radio New Zealand and international speaker Professor Rachel Batterham, of the University College, London Hospital Bariatric Centre was interviewed on RNZ’s Saturday morning show.

Science and Innovation Minister, the Hon Paul Goldsmith (centre) with Challenge Board representative Monique Faleafa and Challenge Director Professor Wayne Cutfield at the Diabesity Symposium at Auckland City Hospital.

Keen interest in contestable funding round

A Better Start National Science Challenge and Cure Kids $2.8m contestable funding round has attracted wide interest from the child health research community, receiving 60 proposals for funding.
The collaboration is focused on research investigating the early detection, prevention or successful management of mental health problems, obesity, earlier literacy and learning and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. The assessment and peer review process is underway with successful candidates to be announced in late June or early July.

Webinars trialled for Vision Matauranga guidance

A Better Start ran a series of webinars to give the research community an opportunity to learn more about the National Science Challenge and its contestable funding round. The series included a specific webinar offering guidance on Vision Mātauranga and Pasifika research perspectives. An expert panel comprised of Challenge kahui member Garrick Cooper from Canterbury University, Board member Monique Faleafa and Challenge co-director Professor Gail Gillon responded to a wide-ranging series of queries, facilitated by Challenge Board chair Pat Snedden.
In February A Better Start hosted a Vision Matauranga hui at the Liggins Institute, to consult on and develop the Challenge's Vision Matauranga strategy.

A Better Start kahui members: Garrick Cooper, Canterbury University and Helen Moewaka Barnes, Massey University.

Gut bug trial looks at impact on obesity

Challenge researchers are involved in a trial for a novel treatment to treat obesity in teenagers. The study is based on findings that a less diverse gut microbiome might be linked to obesity.The gut bacteria from young adults with a healthy weight will be transferred using novel capsule technology to 80 obese teens.As a double blind study, half the participants receive placebo capsules, The novel therapy has been shown to lead to weight loss in mice. The clinical trial is thought to be the first time that Gut Microbiome Transfer (GMT) has been tried as a therapy for obese teenagers.

Presentations and publications

Challenge Science leader Professor Angus Hikairo Macfarlane gave the formal response to the opening address of the Indigenous Research Collaboration Forum at the University of Sydney.
Associate Professor Sonja Macfarlane and doctoral scholar Melissa Derby represented the Literacy and Learning strategic research project at – Te Ritorito 2017: Towards whānau, hapū and iwi wellbeing , hosted by Te Puni Kōkiri and Superu in Wellington and Te Mana Te Mana Raraunga, the Māori data sovereignty symposium in the Waikato.
Challenge Co-Director Professor Barry Taylor presented research on health screens for obese 4-year olds at the Diabetes Society NZ's annual paediatic science forum.

Gillon, G., & Macfarlane, A. (2017). A culturally responsive framework for enhancing phonological awareness development in children with speech and language impairment, Speech, Language and Hearing, DOI: 10.1080/2050571X.2016.1265738

For your calendar
Literacy and Learning Symposium 26 and 27 October, 2017, University of Canterbury
Facilitating early literacy success and healthy well-being for all children is hosted by Professor Gail Gillon and Professor Angus Macfarlane, Leaders of the Literacy and
Learning theme. Contact:


Meet the team

Saili Aukuso, a teacher turned doctorate candidate who is passionate about bilingualism has joined A Better Start E Tipu e Rea’s Literacy and Learning strategic research programme. Saili’s, a teacher, has included stints running bilingual units in Auckland, and acting as the regional facilitator for 25 bilingual units in Auckland for the Ministry of Education. She says,“This has been my passion, as I have seen how children who are comfortable in two cultures and languages can achieve academically and socially.”
Saili has joined the Emerging Bilinguals in a Digital World team, where her supervisor Distinguished Professor Niki Davis, is co-leader.The researchers have been mapping the linguistic landscapes for young children at early childhood centres in Christchurch.The next step will focus on ways to stimulate children to be bilingual or multi-lingual.


Some of the A Better Start Literacy and Learning team members (l-r): Associate Professor Sonja Macfarlane, Distinguished Professor Niki Davis, Dr Amy Scott, Leali’ie’e Tufulasi Taleni, Leona Harris, Dr Leanne Wilson, Saili Aukuso, Melissa Derby, Nikita Gregory

Melissa Derby, a PhD student working on A Better Start, was awarded the UC Brownlie Scholarship. This Award is made to the highest ranked doctoral student across the University.

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