Freemason contributions celebrated and pathway for future outlined

28 November 2011

A Memorandum of Understanding pointing to the pathways enabling future cooperation and support was signed by The University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart McCutcheon and the Grand Master of Freemasons New Zealand, Mr Selwyn Cooper, in Auckland on Friday 25 November.

The signing ceremony took part as part of a celebration marking the 30-year association between the Freemasons and The University of Auckland, with the memorandum a symbolic reflection of the significant and ongoing support of the Freemasons to University research. Over the past three decades this support has been manifested in research into care of the aged and into mitigating the causes and impact of brain diseases effects, and looking to the future, Freemason funding for research will be evident in other areas and initiatives.

Professor Stuart McCutcheon told the audience that to enable The University of Auckland to stay at the forefront of research and scholarship on a global basis, the powerful support of external organisations such as the Freemasons is vital. The Vice Chancellor spoke of the Huntington’s disease research that Freemasons have supported at the faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, and of how a young Auckland researcher is now continuing this research at Harvard University. Professor McCutcheon expressed the shared hope of the two organisations that this young researcher and others of her ilk can return home and continue this research and to continue the important collaborations the Freemasons have helped to establish.

To mark the thirty year linkage, a special one-off gift of $100,000 has been made to the University to advance the work of Professor Charles McGhee in the field of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of visual impairment in older people in developed nations.

This donation will support a PhD scholarship to enable the completion of a pilot study examining the effects of treating sustained inflammation in the blood supply and the role of protein in disease progression and maintenance. It is hoped that the study, which will commence in 2012, will lead to interventions to retard or prevent the process that leads to severe visual impairment.

In the same week Freemasons announced a generous donation of $248,000 to enable a Fellowship at The University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research (CBR) to potentially develop new drugs for neurodegenerative disorders. The funding will assist translational research by enabling collaboration between medicinal chemists led by Professor Margaret Brimble from the School of Chemical Sciences and neuropharmacologists working in the CBR Biobank.

Synthetic chemist Dr Amanda Heapy, the recipient of the Freemasons fellowship, has been creating a unique library of 2000 bioactive natural product derivatives which will be used as novel molecular scaffolds to design new therapeutic agents to treat neurodegenerative disorders.

Dr Heapy says: “Collaboration is key. With medicinal chemistry we need constant feedback from biologists about what direction to go and we hope to provide a more tailored service to the pharmacologists which will fast track the search for novel compounds. The Centre for Brain Research has the biobank, facilities and all the procedures set up for us to do this, whilst the chemists have the compound library. Thus, working closely is a huge competitive advantage — having discussions in person and bouncing off ideas from one another.”

David Mace Chairman of the Freemasons Roskill Foundation says: “The Freemasons are delighted to announce the funding of these fellowships to continue the valuable work by New Zealand researchers who are at the forefront of global investigation.”