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NZ government launches Ageing Well, the latest national science challenge

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce has launched the Ageing Well National Science Challenge, one of 11 planned by the government to tackle the country's biggest science-based issues.

The Ageing Well challenge will get initial funding of $14.6 million and is the fifth of the national challenges launched to date.

Hosted by the University of Otago, the challenge will bring together researchers from seven New Zealand universities and is aimed at improving the health and well-being of older people. The long-term goal is to enhance New Zealand's ability to deal with the rapid demographic change underway which Joyce described as one of the country's biggest long-term societal and economic challenges.

"The number of New Zealanders aged 65 years and over is currently 650,000, and is projected to climb to more than 1 million in the late 2020s. Those aged 65 years and over will then account for 20-22 percent of our population, compared with 14 percent currently," Joyce said.

Researchers will focus on reducing and moderating the impact of dementia, strokes, depression, impaired vision and hearing, and physical disability. The challenge will also develop new techniques and technologies that improve the ability of older people to live independent lives by researching innovations in housing, transport and care services.

Up to a further $34 million of additional Health Research Council funding for existing projects on ageing tie into the challenge which complements the new Brain Health Centre of Research Excellence (CORE) announced last year, aimed at unlocking the secrets of the ageing brain.

The government allocated $133.5 million in new funding over four years in the 2012 and 2013 Budgets for the 11 national science challenges, with continued funding of $30.5 million per year after that. The total spend on the 11 national scheme challenges will be an estimated $1.6 billion, when you add in funding for the centres of research excellence, existing projects that tie into the challenges, and Health Research Council projects.

Other challenges launched so far include:

Launched in April last year the High Value Nutrition challenge is developing high value foods with validated health benefits;

The Deep South challenge launched in August last year aims to understand the role of the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean in determining our climate and future environment;

Launched in August last year, New Zealand's Biological Heritage is investigating how to better protect and manage our biodiversity, biosecurity and resilience to harmful organisms;

Sustainable Seas, launched in September, is looking at the best way to utilise our marine resources within environmental and biological constraints.

Another three challenges - Resilience to Nature's Challenges, Science for Technological Innovation and A Better Start, have had funding approved for a six-month phase to ready them for launch while proposals are being refined for the remainder.