Health researcher gains $300,000 Marsden Funding

08 November 2018

Eight University of Canterbury academics have been awarded 2018 Royal Society Te Apārangi Marsden Funding to lead research. Dr Laurie McLay, from the College of Education, Health and Human Development has been awarded $300,000 for her work on sleep problems in children.

  • Dr Laurie McLay

    Dr Laurie McLay

Dr Laurie McLayHealth SciencesUC Education, Health and Human Development

Are genes all that matter? Investigating the role of the environment and learning-based therapies in treating sleep problems in children with rare genetic neurodevelopmental disorders (Fast-Start $300,000)

The prevalence of sleep problems in children with rare genetic neurodevelopmental disorders (RGND), such as Rett, Williams, and Prader-Willi syndromes, far exceeds that observed in typically developing children. They profoundly affect children’s daytime functioning, and parent and child wellbeing. Without effective treatment, these sleep problems are unlikely to abate, necessitating the identification of evidence-based interventions for this population. Sleep problems in children with RGND are commonly attributed toward biological and circadian abnormalities. As a result, they are predominantly treated medically. While biological and genetic contributors are evident, this should not preclude the potential impact of the environment and learning, on the sleep problem. The proposed study will investigate the role of environmental and learnt (i.e. parent-child interaction) contributors toward sleep problems in children with RGND; the effectiveness of behaviourally based interventions; the short- and long-term maintenance of treatment effects; the role of pre-treatment salivary melatonin levels on response to treatment; and the collateral benefits of effective sleep treatment on family wellbeing. Study findings will clarify the interface between learning and genetics and potentially broaden treatment options.


Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Wright says he continues to be inspired by UC’s Marsden Fund successes across a range of humanities and STEM subjects, and the ability of the exceptional established and emerging research talent at UC. 

About the Marsden Fund

The Marsden Fund supports excellence in leading edge research in New Zealand. There are two types of grants: Fast-Start grants worth $300,000 (excl. GST) over three years for early career researchers and Standard grants that can be worth up to $960,000 (excl. GST) for three years. Grants pay for salaries, student and postdoctoral positions, and consumables. The Marsden Fund is contestable, for investigator-driven research projects, and is not subject to government priorities. It is administered by the Royal Society Te Apārangi and funded by the New Zealand Government.


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