Published by: The University of Auckland


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The Government’s Provincial Growth Fund has awarded $6 million dollars to develop Mātai, a not-for-profit medical imaging research and innovation centre in Tairāwhiti Gisborne.

A core focus of the centre’s research will be traumatic brain injury (TBI), including concussion, and heart disease. TBI, concussion and cardiovascular issues have a significant impact on mental health and wellbeing, and on primary health conditions – conditions which cost the healthcare system millions annually.

Mātai means to investigate or examine. The Mātai whakatauāki, Te Mata Mātai Hura, translates to ‘the investigative revealing eye’.

Hailing from Tairāwhiti Gisborne, Mātai Director of Research Dr Samantha Holdsworth is a University of Auckland Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences (School of Medical Sciences), and leading researcher in brain imaging. She has already made breakthroughs in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technologies while previously working as a senior researcher at Stanford University. MRI uses harmless magnetic fields to see inside our bodies, allowing non-invasive insights into injury and disease.

Dr Holdsworth says, “Through our work in Tairāwhiti, combined with expert support from our global networks, and by bringing the latest technology to the East Coast, we will deliver health and social benefits to the community and to the country.”      

Mātai will be located at Gisborne Hospital, to enable close relationships between scientists, patients and clinicians – ensuring Mātai’s work translates directly into community benefit.

Our research will advance our understanding of the brain, heart, and body; and deliver health and socio-economic benefits regionally and globally.

New Zealand’s pre-eminent neuroscientist, University of Auckland Centre for Brain Research (CBR) Director and Mātai Trustee Sir Richard Faull says, “Mātai’s research in brain injury could help advance the science and treatment of brain trauma, complementing the work underway at CBR and extending research out to the wider community. The East Coast community will lead transformational healthcare and provide a pathway for others to follow. This initiative will inspire a change to healthcare discovery in Aotearoa.”

The University of Auckland is supporting Mātai with a transformational multi-disciplinary team of researchers, post-doctoral researchers, and students across the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, the Centre for Brain Research (CBR), and the Auckland Bioengineering Institute.

An additional $1m in support has come from Tairāwhiti Gisborne’s local community wellbeing and economic development agency, the Eastland Community Trust (ECT).

“ECT is proud to support the establishment of a world-class research facility located in Tairāwhiti,” says ECT Chief Executive Gavin Murphy.

Mātai collaborators include local and international research experts and local medical practitioners with expertise in disciplines such medical imaging, neurology, cardiology, ophthalmology, radiology, computer vision, bioengineering, machine learning and Māori health.

Dr Holdsworth says recent advancements in internet connectivity mean that Gisborne’s physical location holds few barriers to research, and to national and global project collaboration.

“We are so excited to be doing this right here, right now; and hugely grateful for all the support we’ve received,” she says. 

Brain and Heart Research

Research will support areas that impact the Gisborne-Tairāwhiti region. This includes a particular focus on the understanding, early diagnosis and rehabilitation of mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI)/concussion, and heart disease.

TBI is a multi-billion-dollar health issue globally and has a huge social impact on mental health, crime, and unemployment. Studies will include a hunt for biomarkers of concussion, for which there is currently no objective diagnostic test. The research is also expected to generate advances into neuroscience applications and the understanding of other brain disorders, injury, and disease.

Community health

Leigh Potter, who will take on the role of Mātai’s COO, and has worked at the forefront of community healthcare for 20-plus years, will set up the facilities on the grounds of the Gisborne Hospital to enable a close relationship between scientists, patients, and clinicians. 

Dr Gerry Devlin, an experienced clinical researcher in cardiovascular disease, Medical Director for the Heart Foundation and cardiologist at the Gisborne Hospital and Dr Dan Cornfeld, Chief Radiologist at the Gisborne Hospital, will both play an integral role in enabling Mātai’s engagement in heart research. Dr Cornfeld will also work with Mātai to use their advanced imaging technology to obtain clinical benefits for Gisborne’s local population. Gisborne-based ophthalmologist, Dr Graham Wilson will work with Mātai to examine connections between eye-health and biomarkers of brain disease.

Mātai is collaborating with the Ngāti Porou Hauora ‘Te Rangawairua o Paratene Ngata’ Research Center based at Te Puia Springs, and will also support research initiatives with Turanga Health. Dr Patrick McHugh will support community and iwi-led research programmes.

Technology and innovation

The centre will set the foundations to support innovative companies that are building reliable software and hardware for detecting concussion, and will develop and deploy novel image acquisition and image-processing techniques and protocols for a range of applications.

Inspiring youth

Mātai will help develop career pathways for Tairāwhiti tamariki and rangatahi, along with regional education programmes, scholarships, and internship programmes. As part of a broader community focus, Mātai plans to hold a community Brain Day and Brain Bee modeled on the same highly successful event held at the Centre for Brain Research in Auckland. The Brain Bee is believed to have had a signficant impact on children, who have gone on to study neuroscience or related areas.