This article is written and published by Otago Daily Times

One of the country’s leading research scientists is looking forward to doing more research and fewer funding applications after winning a prestigious James Cook Fellowship.

Tony Merriman, of the University of Otago, is a leader in gout [arthritis] and metabolic disease research and said the fellowship, awarded by the Royal Society Te Aparangi, would help him continue his research into the genetic causes of gout [arthritis] and related diseases in New Zealand. Prof Merriman is delighted with the recognition that came with the fellowship. It would also provide some respite from having to find research funding for his salary and enable him to concentrate on his research over the next two years.

“It is wonderful to receive the fellowship and be able to concentrate on the genetics of metabolic disease – gout [arthritis], diabetes, kidney and heart disease – in Maori and Pacific people.”

Gout [arthritis] is a debilitating arthritic disease caused by persistently elevated levels of urate in the blood, leaving many people with severe joint pain and swelling. If left untreated, it can cause serious damage to joints and kidneys and impact the quality of life. Prof Merriman said the genetic control of urate (hyperuricemia) is becoming better understood, but less is known about why only some people with raised levels of urate developed gout [arthritis].

To address this, he is leading an international consortium to scan the human genome for genes controlling the progression from hyperuricemia to gout [arthritis]. His colleagues, Alana Alexander, from the Department of Anatomy and PhD student Rachael Baxter are among another 10 researchers acknowledged by the Royal Society through fellowships and scholarships.

Dr Alexander was awarded a two-year Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to investigate whether hologenomic approaches can answer key questions in conservation biology; and Ms Baxter was awarded a three-year Cambridge Rutherford Memorial PhD Scholarship to investigate triggers of volcanic eruptions.

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