Funding boost to improve rheumatic fever treatment and prevention

New research led by Victoria University of Wellington that could help change the way rheumatic fever is managed has been given a significant boost in funding.
Dr Dianne Sika- Paotonu, senior lecturer at the University’s Faculty of Health, has been awarded
$249,391 over three years to lead a research project
that investigates how the cur rent treatment of
rheumatic fever affects those most at risk.
Dr Sika-Paotonu received the funding through a Health Research Council’s Pacific Emerging Researcher First Grant, in addition to the Council’s Pacific Knowledge Translation Grant, worth $5,000 over six months.
The award-winning biomedical scientist says the research will contribute to the global efforts to reformulate rheumatic fever treatment and prevention.
Dr Sika-Paotonu and her fellow researchers will investigate how the body processes the penicillin—Benzathine Penicillin G (BPG)— across different demographics, with a particular focus on young Māori and Pasifika who are most at risk.
“The initial studies around BPG were carried out in the 1950s. The injections were given to United States’ soldiers who were all fit, healthy, Caucasian men aged between 18 and 24, and who had never had rheumatic fever. The data about how their bodies processed
BPG were used to determine how we use the penicillin for rheumatic fever.
“It’s clear we need some better information about how the drug works in other population groups as there can be significant variability between individuals. The need is especially great in New Zealand where rates of rheumatic fever are incredibly high,
particularly among Māori and Pasifika children.”
The project involves a team of Victoria researchers collaborating with health and medical research organisations in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
“We’re monitoring how the penicillin works on young people aged between five and 21, who receive the monthly injections. We’ll take blood samples, analyse the data to better understand how the body is handling the BPG, investigate the effect BPG is having, and monitor
the antibody immune responses to possible re-infection. The information we get will illustrate how the penicillin is being processed by people of different demographics,” she says.
“We’ll then make that information available to other groups around the world working in this area. It really is the start of changing the way we prevent recurring rheumatic fever in New Zealand, the Pacific and around the world.”
The New Zealand Pharmacokinetics Study is partnering with researchers from the University of Otago, Regional Public Health, Compass Health, Porirua Union and Community Health Service, Telethon Kids Institute (Australia), Curtin University (Australia), PathWest Laboratories (Australia), The University of Western
Australia and Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (United States).