Published by: The Gisborne Herald
Author: Mark Peters

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A state-of-the-art medical imaging research centre that focuses on mild traumatic brain injury and heart disease could make Gisborne a world-leading centre in MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), Matai Medical Research Institute’s director of research and University of Auckland senior lecturer Dr Samantha Holdsworth said yesterday.

The centre — which has received $6 million from the Provincial Growth Fund and $1m from Eastland Community Trust — will be based at Gisborne Hospital. With advanced MRI technology, research and collaboration, Matai aims to identify biomarkers in concussion and support local community health research initiatives.

The centre will place the East Coast at the forefront of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and heart disease research, said Dr Holdsworth, a leading researcher in brain imaging and emerging MRI technologies. Matai’s vision is to deliver health and socio-economic benefits regionally and globally.

Matai wants to improve health and education status, and provide high-tech job opportunities in the Gisborne region, while becoming a global research centre of excellence, said Dr Holdsworth.

“Our work in Tairawhiti, 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.”

Matai’s scientists and international collaborators developed technology that amplified brain pulsation, said Dr Holdsworth.

The methodology meant barely visible brain motion could now be visualised as the heart beats. This opened possibilities for non-invasive identification of obstructive brain disorders such as Chiari malformation and hydrocephalous (a condition in which excess cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the brain and can increase pressure within the head). The potential existed to expand this technology to applications in brain and body imaging.

The World Health Organisation forecasts that by 2020, TBI will be the world’s second biggest cause of mortality. The cost of brain injury in New Zealand by that year is projected to be $70 million.

A core focus of the Matai centre’s research will be mild TBI, concussion and heart disease.

Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and cardiovascular issues have a significant impact on mental health and well-being, and primary health conditions that cost the healthcare system millions annually.

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Traumatic brain injury research is underrepresented in New Zealand

TBI research was underrepresented in New Zealand, said Dr Holdsworth.

Many people suffer from concussion in this country but there had been no clear, objective biomarkers for concussion. Matai also aimed to undertake research to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease.

“Cardiomyopathy, ischemic heart disease, and rheumatic heart disease are big issues for our community.”

Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. It makes it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. Ischemic heart disease refers to heart problems caused by narrowed heart arteries. Rheumatic heart disease starts with a sore throat caused by Group A Streptococcal bugs. This can lead to rheumatic fever which can damage the heart valves.

Matai 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 Maori health.

Through Dr Holdsworth’s senior lectureship position, Matai has strong connections with the University of Auckland which provides significant in-kind support to the centre. Matai’s extensive network includes 24 affiliated faculty advisers, 37 medical, scientific and engineering advisers from around the world, and tikanga Maori advisers.

“All these people are keen to work with Matai, and come and visit,” said Dr Holdsworth.

Matai will also be in research collaboration on community health initiatives with Ngati Porou Hauora and Turanga Health.

“It’s about relationships, growing connections.”

Originally from Te Karaka, Dr Holdsworth has been overseas for many years. As a senior researcher at Stanford University, California and University of Auckland, she made breakthroughs in MRI technologies.

“I came back to Tairawhiti to help people here. I’m back here because I love it and believe in this place and the people here.”

Advancements in internet connectivity meant Gisborne’s physical location held few barriers to research, and national and global project collaboration. People thought of Gisborne as isolated, but in terms of links with academic institutions and research centres of excellence around the country, the city was quite central, Dr Holdsworth told The Gisborne Herald.

“This is a move beyond primary industry.

“We have many innovative people in Gisborne. With our network and local talent we can grow and make a big difference.”


Photo courtesy of The Gisborne Herald