June 10, 2014
Maori focus on brain disease research
An emerging Maori neuroscientist has been awarded nearly $1.2 million from the Health Research Council’s latest funding round to find whether Maori-focused brain training can slow the progression of Huntington’s disease.
Dr Melanie Cheung from Ngati Rangitihi says there is evidence to suggest the prevalence of the disease among Maori is five times that of the rest of New Zealand and ten times the world average.
It’s a genetic disorder which causes brain cells to progressively die, resulting in difficulties with movement, thinking, personality, and eventually death.
Dr Cheung is currently at the Brain Plasticity Institute in San Francisco on a Fulbright Fellowship, working on a computer-based brain resilience training programme which incorporates matauranga Maori.
She says brain training exercises have been used successfully to treat dyslexia, schizophrenia, autism, mild cognitive impairment and traumatic brain injury which have overlapping symptoms with Huntington’s disease.
Other recipients of Rangahau Hauora Project grants include Dr Heather Gifford from Whakauae Research Services Limited in Whanganui, who is working on ways to improve the prevention of chronic conditions among Maori, and Associate Professor Beverly Lawton from the University of Otago in Wellington, who is looking at ways to cut down the avoidable harm suffered by Maori babies.
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