Mātai News

Brain and heart scientists pull on gumboots for tour

University of Auckland, 1 November 2022

Staff and students from the Centre for Brain Research and Manaaki Manawa connected with the people of Tairāwhiti in October.

Some of the University’s most eminent scientists donned gumboots in Tairāwhiti to attend the Poverty Bay A&P Show and give a talk at the Cosmopolitan Club in October.


Staff and students from the Centre for Brain Research (CBR), Manaaki Manawa Centre for Heart Research, Anatomy and Medical Imaging, Auckland Bioengineering Institute and Engineering shared the Mātai Research Institute’s tent.


Manaaki Manawa director Professor Julian Paton says he had to purchase his first pair of gumboots for the agricultural fair.


“I was told they had to be a specific brand, ‘Red Bands’. I had never heard of them before,” says UK-born Julian. They proved their worth, as the spring weather was rainy and cold.


The team demonstrated live ultrasound scans, projecting the heart onto an interactive screen, as well as showing children 3D-printed ‘Ken’ and ‘Barbies’, with translucent skin and muscles showing the skeleton and circulatory system.


Despite the temptations of activities such as ferris wheels, wood-chopping, shearing and dressage competitions, hundreds of people aged from eight to 80 visited the Mātai tent, which went on to win Best Trade Site in Show.


Manaaki Manawa’s goal is to reduce disparities in heart health and cardiac-related deaths in Māori and Pacific compared with other groups, by doing research differently and also engaging young people with science in the hope they go on to STEM careers. The scientists listened to locals’ stories of whānau with heart disease, and answered questions.


“We’re all about health equity,” Julian says. “The way we’re going about that is to reverse the standard way of doing things. We used to set up a hypothesis and drive it through to some outcome, then deliver that outcome to the community.


“Now we’re going out to the community and asking them what the hypothesis should be. Then our experts address that hypothesis, test it and go back out to the community with the solution to the problem we originally discussed with them.”


The Manaaki Manawa Outreach and Education team of researchers and students, led by Dr Anuj Bhargava, have been visiting schools and events around the country and are also heading to Hamilton Fieldays later in November.


CBR director Professor Sir Richard Faull (Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Rāhiri) grew up on a Taranaki farm and is no stranger to gumboots or A&P shows.


“We have been doing outreach from the start,” Sir Richard says.


“It’s about going out to people affected by brain injury and brain disease and talking to them and their whānau on their land. This is important to everyone, but especially for Māori, who take care of the land and come from this land.”


On this trip, CBR’s deputy director Māori Dr Makarena Dudley presented an inspiring talk about mate wareware (dementia) at the Gisborne Cosmopolitan Club. About 50 people attended and Makarena was invited back to Tairāwhiti in February 2023 to present to other Māori health services. (Watch the video below.)

As well as attending community events, the CBR’s Being Brainy team visits schools, hosts a choir for people with brain injuries and disease, and has a Gavel Toastmasters group for people who have had strokes.


Says Sir Richard: “We’re taking our science to the people; and we are doing science for the people.”