Mātai Lab’s core research and expertise will complement and aid multiple areas of health-related research.
Medical imaging enables physicians to see inside the body with clarity to assess a diseased organ. It can lead to less invasive and precise medical therapies, fewer complications, and shorter hospital stays. Through its state-of-the art imaging and strong cross-disciplinary expertise, Mātai Lab will enable medical discoveries, transformations, and innovations in a broad range of illnesses that affect our people.
Cancer research will be supported by testing and refining imaging protocols that enable cell tracking (cells can be manipulated with nanoparticles, contrast agents and reporter genes so that they can be followed and tracked with MRI). This will help guide stem cell and immune cell therapy to find treatments for many diseases, including cancer, type 1 diabetes, ALS, multiple sclerosis, stroke and other neurological conditions. Our MRI system will also play a key role in a number of congenital diseases that affect children, to enable physicians to make treatments with less-invasive methods.
OTHER BRAIN RESEARCH
The ability to visualise anatomical connections between different parts of the brain has emerged as a major breakthrough for neuroscience. This level of resolution can show subtle changes in brain microstructure, leading to the early diagnosis of brain disease or disorders.
As Mātai grows, our research findings could expand into other areas of brain research, including:
- Understanding brain physiology, brain injury and disorders.
- Brain injury and disorder prevention.
- Basic science research into interventional methodologies (including modern medicine & holistic approaches).
- Brain Rehabilitation.
- Mental health issues & suicide (which also occur in high frequency in patients with TBI).
- Neurodegenerative disease and stroke.
Novel MRI technology can depict exquisite white matter structure.
At this resolution, it may be possible to detect subtle white matter tears due to brain injury. By being able to see subtle improvements in white matter strength during or after treatment/rehabilitation, the effectiveness of treatments can be more objectively measured.
We have a real strength in advanced and novel neuroimaging of brain structure and function, which can be used to validate and improve neurorehabilitation software developed by New Zealand companies. This includes new neurorehabilitation approaches and software tools targeted to brain injury and other disorders.
MRI has shown to be able to pick up changes in white matter fibre connections, even in real-time. Functional MRI which probes altered cognitive processes also holds promise for measuring altered brain activity non-invasively. This opens up the opportunity to test the impact of rehabilitation methods on the brain. For example, the differences between a baseline (before) and after rehabilitation MRI scan may be able to pick up subtle changes in the brain to help guide treatment.
HEART RATE VARIABILITY
A promising and under-recognised area of research that we will support is heart rate variability (HRV) research.
HRV explores the information encoded in the beat to beat variations of the heart and provides a doorway to explore the autonomic nervous system and heart-brain communications along with emotional factors such as resilience. HRV has also been shown to be altered in concussion, and is likely to provide an important biomarker, a tool for outcome measures, as well as a tool for therapeutic intervention.
Further research will lead to diagnosis and treatment opportunities related to brain and heart disorders, particularly in mental health and brain injury rehabilitation.
Child Health Index (CHI)
We will work towards the development of a Child Health Index to provide a facility to measure the health of different communities from the tamariki perspective. Research is increasingly showing that adverse childhood events and lower self-control levels in childhood are associated with developing health and social issues in adulthood. A Child Health Index may well provide an indicator of disease burden for communities as well as an early barometer as to whether any intervention is improving the overall health in that community.
This research into the base health and mental health of our children through a CHI, will serve as part of a holistic approach to caring for our tamariki.