From its earliest years the Otago Medical School adopted the Edinburgh tradition of research, and for some 50 years the only medical research undertaken in New Zealand was that carried out at the Medical School.
The Health Act 1920 converted the Department of Public Health into the Department of Health, and one of the new functions it was charged with was to promote or carry out research and investigations concerning the public health, and the prevention or treatment of disease. For several years the Department sponsored research on such subjects as poliomyelitis, still births, and goitre. Over the last 35 years, also, departmental officers have carried out field studies, mostly concerning various aspects of epidemiology.
About 1928 a New Zealand branch of the British Empire Cancer Campaign Society was formed, and in 1929 began to carry out research into the causes of cancer.
The Medical Research Council
In 1937 a Medical Research Council was set up as a committee of the Board of Health with the Director-General as chairman. The Council selected nutrition, goitre, tuberculosis, hydatid disease, and dental caries as subjects in which research should be carried out, and a corresponding number of committees were appointed, each concerned with one of the subjects, and responsible to the Council for bringing forward suggested programmes of work with estimates of the costs involved. The Medical Research Council depended on a yearly grant from the Government and its financial resources were small.
In 1950 the Medical Research Council Act was passed by which the old Council was dissolved and a new Medical Research Council came into being as an independent body corporate. The Council consists of 10 members nominated respectively by the University Grants Committee, the Royal Society of New Zealand, the Royal Colleges of Australasia, the British Medical Association, and the Board of Health, with three ex officio members, the Director-General of the Dept. of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Dean of the Medical Faculty, and the Director-General of Health, who continues as chairman. The financial grant from the Government has been increased and is made triennially on an increasing scale, so that there is more opportunity to plan ahead, and more security for those working for the Council.
The new Council has continued the policy of the previous Council, and is extending into other fields of research as research workers and the necessary finance become available. The Medical Research Council has always cooperated closely with the Otago Medical School, and with the Medical Research Councils of the United Kingdom and Australia.
The Research Foundations
In 1955 a Medical Research Foundation was incorporated in Auckland to sponsor local research, and has been successful in raising considerable funds from local sources. Similar foundations have been established more recently in Wellington, Christchurch, Palmerston North, and Hawke's Bay, and each has received contributions from private individuals and business firms.
Contributions to Medical Research
Mention should be made of some of the notable contributions made towards medical research in New Zealand. In 1940 the Travis trustees of Christchurch contributed funds towards fundamental research in tuberculosis, and in 1954 the Life Offices Association of Australia established a fund to promote and assist research on diseases of the heart and blood vessels. In both cases the grants are supporting research carried out at the Otago Medical School. In 1957 Dr J. S. Phillips bequeathed to the Medical Research Council a substantial sum for the eradication of filariasis in Western Samoa. In recent years, also, the New Zealand Dairy Board, the New Zealand Meat Producers' Board, and the New Zealand Wool Board have been jointly contributing a large amount annually towards research in hydatid disease.