Dr Amita Bansal

Amita Bansal uses the organisational, academic and technical skills that she learnt at the Liggins Institute in her Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania.

Key facts

Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA.
Programme: PhD in Biomedical Science
Research topic: Effects of preterm birth and neonatal hyperglycaemia on the developing pancreas and liver
Supervisor: Professor Frank Bloomfield

An intriguing research topic, a supervisor with an outstanding research profile, and an opportunity to study in a beautiful country like New Zealand, all combined to draw Indian-born Amita Bansal to the Liggins Institute’s doctoral research programme.

Previously, she had completed a BSc (first class honours) Medical Biotechnology at the University of Abertay Dundee, Scotland.

Amita’s PhD project at the Liggins Institute delved into the molecular mechanisms of a significant clinical disorder.

“Babies who are born preterm have an increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance later in life, however the molecular mechanisms behind this effect are not known,” she says.“Impaired glucose tolerance is characterised by reduced insulin secretion by the pancreas and reduced insulin sensitivity in peripheral tissues such as the liver, muscle and adipose tissue.

“My research showed that, in sheep, preterm birth is associated with altered expression of key genes involved in pancreatic insulin secretion and hepatic insulin sensitivity, together with long-term reduction in pancreatic beta cell mass.”

Her research included a wide range of techniques from physiological tests and animal surgical skills through to qPCR, immunohistochemistry, western blotting, radioimmunoassay, ELISA and UPLC-mass spectrometry.

Amita’s research contributed new evidence to the body of research into the developmental origins of health and disease for which the Liggins Institute has an established international reputation. She says that it was a pleasure and privilege to be a part of this programme, and to have had the opportunity to work with some of the acknowledged pioneers in the “developmental origins” field.

She also appreciated being part of the Liggins team environment, commenting on “supportive and encouraging” supervisors, “helpful and skilful” laboratory staff and the friendly students and postdocs; while proximity to the Auckland City Hospital and University’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences provided opportunities for further collaborations. Alongside her research project, Amita seized opportunities to extend her learning and develop leadership skills.

She attended and made oral and poster presentations at a range of national and international scientific meetings including the Perinatal Society of NZ; Gravida: National Centre for Growth and Development; the  Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand; the Pediatric Academic Societies (the largest international meeting focused on research in child health); the International Society of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) and the (US) Endocrine Society (the largest international meeting focused on basic science, clinical and translational research in endocrinology). These led to having abstracts published in journals: Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, and Endocrine Reviews. She also graduated from the University of Auckland Doctoral Academic Career Module, a programme which is limited to 20 students from across the University each year.

Within the Liggins Institute she represented the postgraduate student body, championing development of a Liggins Alumni and social media network and receiving the Liggins Student Leadership Award. Within the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences she was appointed as the International Students’ Representative on the International Committee and Vice President of the Postgraduate Student Association. Further afield, she was appointed to the Chair of the Early Career Researchers Committee of the DOHaD-Australia and New Zealand Society and as the Student Representative on the International DOHaD Council. She is currently the NPA International Officer, President of the UPenn Biomedical Postdoctoral Council, and trainee representative on the International DOHaD Council.

During her study, Amita achieved a number of prestigious grants and awards including travel grants from the Perinatal Society of New Zealand and the Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust, and a Sir John Logan Campbell Research Award. Amita received a University of Auckland International Doctoral Scholarship for her PhD. She achieved top ranking for her oral presentation at the Faculty postgraduate conference HealtheX, going on to represent the Faculty in the University-wide Exposure competition.

Amita says that the organisational, academic and technical skills learnt during her time at the Liggins Institute are proving useful for her Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania.

Explore the current list of masters and doctoral research projects on offer and their supervisors.