Wanted: 9000 pregnant Auckland women

23 November 2016
Amrita Naidu and her son Aarav
Amrita Naidu and her son Aarav

As pregnancy-related diabetes affects more and more New Zealand women, a major Auckland study is underway to find out the best way of diagnosing the condition, which carries serious health risks for mum and baby.

The call is out for 9000 pregnant women to sign up to the “GEMS” study, run by researchers at the Liggins Institute. Over 700 women have already taken part. Most participants simply have to fill in a questionnaire when they join the study, towards the end of pregnancy and after the birth.

If you’re pregnant, haven’t had gestational diabetes before, and plan to have your baby at Auckland City Hospital, Birthcare, Middlemore Hospital or Counties Manukau Birthing Units (Botany, Papakura, Pukekohe), the GEMS study is open for you to join.

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is high blood sugar that starts in pregnancy. GDM can cause problems for both mothers and babies in the short and long-term. Babies born to mothers with GDM may be larger than normal, suffer birth injuries, breathing problems, jaundice and low blood sugar. They are also at increased risk of growing up overweight or obese, and of developing diabetes in adulthood. Long-term health risks to mothers include a raised risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Around one in 12 pregnant women in New Zealand are diagnosed with GDM, and the incidence is rising. The Ministry of Health currently recommends all pregnant women are tested for GDM.

“If blood tests show a pregnant woman’s blood sugar level is above a certain threshold, she is diagnosed with GDM. New Zealand uses one blood glucose threshold, but there have been calls internationally to use a lower one that some countries now use,” says GEMS study lead Professor Caroline Crowther at the Liggins Institute, based at the University of Auckland.

“What this study will do for the first time is carefully compare our current threshold in New Zealand to the lower international threshold, so we can see which is better for reducing the short and longer term problems for the mother with GDM and her baby.”

Professor Caroline Crowther
Professor Caroline Crowther

Amrita Naidu’s midwife encouraged her to join the study when the Papatoetoe local was 24 weeks pregnant (women need to be between 24 and 32 weeks pregnant to participate).

“I was motivated to take part because I have a family history of diabetes,” she says. “I almost knew beforehand that I would have diabetes in pregnancy. It wasn’t intrusive at all – it was helpful, and if someone asked me if they should take part, I would say ‘definitely’. You find out things about yourself and your diet.”

After receiving her diagnosis of GDM, Amrita was given guidance on diet and exercise changes to manage the condition.

“I was thinking it would be horrible and that I couldn’t eat anything, or what I used to eat. But a dietician helped me and I learned that it is about controlling what you eat and what quantities you eat and at what time. It wasn’t that difficult a transition.”

Amrita gave birth to a healthy boy, Aarav, in August.

Researcher Dr Chris McKinlay, who also works as neonatologist at Middlemore Hospital, says the research team is very grateful to women like Naidu. “A lot of women say they appreciate the opportunity to help other mothers and babies. And it’s the generosity of thousands of everyday people that allows medical researchers to make advances in understanding to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies.”

Find out more about GEMS here.



  • GEMS is a study underway in central, eastern and south Auckland that will involve 9000 pregnant Auckland women.
  • GEMS will compare two different ways of diagnosing gestational diabetes, an increasingly common condition carrying short-term and long-term risks to mother and child, to find out which is best for mothers’ and babies’ health.
  • This is the first randomised study comparing different blood glucose thresholds used in the diagnosis of GDM.


Nicola Shepheard Media Adviser

Email: n.shepheard@auckland.ac.nz