Auckland medical researcher first outside US to win prestigious prize

12 June 2017
APS President Mark Batshaw with Distinguished Professor Jane Harding receiving her award
APS President Mark Batshaw with Distinguished Professor Jane Harding receiving her award

An Auckland medical researcher who has led advances in the care of newborn babies has become the first person outside of the United States to win a prestigious prize.

Distinguished Professor Jane Harding from the Liggins Institute, based at the University of Auckland, has received the Norman J. Siegel New Member Outstanding Science Award from the American Pediatric Society (APS), which boasts 1800-plus members at the very top of their fields.

This is the first year that a scientist outside of the US has received this distinction.

Professor Harding says the award came as “a complete surprise. It is a tremendous honour.”

She accepted the award in person in San Francisco at the biggest paediatric research meeting in the world, where she gave a talk about the need to investigate the long-term consequences of newborn conditions and their treatment.

This trip followed one to Toronto, where she was the Barry Smith Visiting Lecturer at the top Canadian children’s hospital, Sick Kids. While there she joined clinical rounds, Fellow education sessions, and gave five lectures in one week, including a “Grand Round” lecture about the Sugar Babies trial that she led.

That trial, involving 400 babies born at risk of low blood sugar at Waikato Hospital, showed for the first time that dextrose (sugar) gel massaged inside a baby’s cheek is more effective than feeding alone for treating low blood sugar, or neonatal hypoglycaemia. About one in six babies born in New Zealand develop this condition, which in severe cases can lead to brain damage. The gel has been widely adopted in New Zealand and many other parts of the world, and Professor Harding is now leading the hPOD trial to see if the gel can be used as a preventative, keeping more babies out of intensive care.

The two trips have brought Professor Harding’s work, and the Liggins Institute, to the attention of other top paediatric researchers, and already new collaborations are on the cards.

After the Sugar Babies talk, the director of Ontario’s baby ambulance service told Professor Harding that she was immediately going to source the gel and make sure it was available for use in their service.

“People were excited about the breadth of work going on in New Zealand,” says Professor Harding. “There was a recognition that there are things we can do better here than anywhere else, because of the organisation of our health system, the ability of researchers to find and follow up people, and people’s willingness to participate in studies.”

The APS president, Mark Batshaw, wrote in his letter to Professor Harding that she had demonstrated her contribution to science “through your professional accomplishments and your significant contributions to research and pediatrics”.

 

Contact:

Nicola Shepheard Media Relations Adviser Tel: 09 923 1515 Mob: 027 537 1319 Email: n.shepheard@auckland.ac.nz