Tāmaki Innovation Campus


UNRAVELLING DIETARY DETERMINANTS OF DISEASE


Kathryn Bradbury
Dr Kathryn Bradbury

Big data is about to play a vital role in New Zealanders’ dietary health, thanks to Dr Kathryn Bradbury and her Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship grant enabling her to link her background in nutrition with a passion for working with data and big datasets.

Kathryn, a Senior Research Fellow at NIHI (The National Institute for Health Innovation) has received $441,931 to develop this field of nutritional epidemiology in New Zealand.

“The fellowship has a few components, first is to work on the MENZACS study, which is a cohort of patients who have had an acute coronary syndrome. I also want to investigate whether riboflavin reduces blood pressure in people with a common genetic variant. The other components are to develop a scalable dietary assessment tool that can be used to collect dietary information on many participants from the general population, and to investigate linking people’s dietary data with routinely collected health information.”

With a BSc in Human Nutrition at the University of Otago, she then went on to complete an MSc and a PhD in Human Nutrition, consolidating a robust background in nutritional science.

“For my PhD, I measured, in the lab, the blood folate status of New Zealanders from our latest national nutrition survey. We were trying to get more information to help inform the government’s policy on folic acid fortification.”

“After my PhD a Girdlers’ HRC fellowship allowed me to spend five years at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, at the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford.”

“I remain curious about the dietary determinants of disease and the Girdlers’ fellowship allowed me to work with really large datasets at the University of Oxford, investigating the associations between dietary factors and non-communicable disease.”

She reflects on her time in the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, calling it an amazing opportunity offering collegial work with ‘brilliant researchers’.

“It was truly inspiring that they were really doing research for the right reasons, to try to find answers to important public health questions. It was a wonderful environment to work in after completing my PhD.”

“I’d rate the five-years in Oxford as an incredible experience and a career highlight to date,” she says.  “I learned so much about how we can look at the relationships between diet and disease in really large population studies. I always wanted to come back to New Zealand though, but it is not easy to come back when there isn’t really the same type of research going on in New Zealand. I was used to working on studies of half a million participants, all of whom had answered questions about their diet. In New Zealand there are some cohort studies, but most of them have not gathered dietary information, and many are not large enough to look at relationships between diet and disease.”

However, the call of New Zealand proved irresistible and Kathryn began looking for potential fellowships. Her return was softened by support from the Girdlers’ fellowship for a further year, hosted by NIHI, and culminated in the Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship.

Kathryn is based at NIHI on Tāmaki, with supervisors Cliona Ni Mhurchu (NIHI) and Clare Wall (FHMS). She says there are different components to her proposed research. She prefers to work in a multidisciplinary team with nutritionists, biostatisticians, medics, laboratory-based scientists, and plans to involve relevant people at different points. The first part involves working with the MENZACS study, with Malcolm Legget and the MENZACS study team. All participants have completed questionnaires about their diet and patients are followed up for secondary events via linkage to health data.

Kathryn admits to a degree of excitement about the move to Grafton, not only from research perspective but also to the improved public transport potential.

“Also, I suspect there is a lot of nutrition-related research going on at Grafton that I know nothing about and I’m hoping that being at the Grafton campus will allow for much more opportunities to connect with other nutrition and medical researchers.”