Rheumatic fever vaccine research involving special ‘yoghurt’ and a whanau-led approach to healthy nutrition are amongst $4.3m worth of grants just announced by the Heart Foundation.

They are among 17 project grants, 14 fellowships and scholarships plus travel grants and studentships funded by the Foundation in 2018 bringing the total awarded by the charity since its formation 50 years ago to more than $70 million.

Heart Foundation Fellow Dr Jacelyn Loh

Gerry Devlin, Heart Foundation Medical Director  said it had received a number of high quality research applications across the whole cardiovascular health ‘bench-to-bedside’ spectrum.  He said several of this year’s grants address New Zealand specific issues including a vaccine that could potentially prevent rheumatic fever in New Zealand, a kaupapa Māori nutrition research project for cardiovascular health, and the ongoing development of chest-pain pathways in rural communities.

The rheumatic fever vaccine project could result in Kiwi kids being able to receive a teaspoon of ‘special yoghurt’ to protect against Strep A. The Strep A bacteria causes a sore throat or skin infection and, if untreated, can lead to acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and the risk of rheumatic heart disease (RHD), permanent heart damage and premature death.

“Our vaccination strategy is quite unique as it uses a live, food-grade bacteria to produce and deliver the vaccine to protect against Strep A,” says Heart Foundation Fellow Jacelyn Loh from the University of Auckland.

Building a healthy nutrition programme that works for Māori and addresses equity issues in heart disease is the aim of two colleagues who also received funding.

Erina Korohina of Toi Tangata received this year’s Heart Foundation Māori Cardiovascular Research Fellowship, and Dr Anna Rolleston from Tauranga’s Centre for Health has been awarded a $150,000 project grant – both for a new project on the barriers, enablers and solutions around healthy nutrition for Māori.

“From my many years working in Māori Health, particularly community development in Tai Tokerau, I personally witnessed what the statistics tell us – there is an equity gap in CVD prevalence between Māori and non-Māori,” says Korohina.

“I saw that the programmes that didn’t work for Māori are those that don’t respond to a Māori world view. This new research funding and my Heart Foundation Fellowship means we will continue to build the evidence-base to show kaupapa Māori and co-design nutrition programmes actually work.”

Rolleston agreed with Korohina and said the pair’s approach was unique, as they would engage the whole whānau in a “bottom-up” process. It will be “built by the people, they will have ownership, so it is much more likely to be successful than if we just brainstormed around a table,” she said.

Read the full list of 2018 Heart Foundation funding recipients here.

Banner: Mrs Erina Korohina (l) and Dr Anna Rolleston (r)

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