World-leading gout expert Professor Nicola Dalbeth wins Gluckman Medal

World-leading gout specialist Professor Nicola Dalbeth won the top research award of the medical faculty of the University of Auckland.

Professor Nicola Dalbeth with a scan showing gout in the joints of a patient's feet. Photo: Auckland Medical Research Foundation/Brett Phibbs

Professor Dalbeth is this year’s winner of the Gluckman Medal for distinguished contribution to research for her work on gout, an arthritis prevalent in Aotearoa.

Her more than 400 research papers span everything from the extra risk Covid-19 poses for people suffering from gout to whether the condition – an inflammatory arthritis – should have a different name. (She thinks it should.)

Gout is a painful form of arthritis caused by urate crystals accumulating in joints. It affects one quarter of older Māori men and one third of older Pacific men in New Zealand.

Professor Dalbeth has led international initiatives to re-define central concepts of the disease including the language used to describe gout, how disease remission is defined, and standardised measurement in gout clinical trials. These tools have been widely adopted in gout research and clinical practice.

Professor Dalbeth has a global reputation in the field of gout, a disease
that was once thought to be just too much rich food.

Her work has challenged widely held beliefs about gout being caused by over-indulgence in food and drink. In fact, biological factors including age, being male, chronic kidney disease, genetic variants and some medications play a major role in development of gout.

“Nicola has had an extraordinarily productive career as a clinician scientist and has earned a global reputation in the field of gout, a disease that was once thought to be just too much rich food,” said Professor John Fraser, the Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. “Nicola’s research has contributed to dispelling the many myths about gout and her findings have been instrumental in improving the treatments available for patients with this debilitating disease.”

He offered warm congratulations, adding that Professor Dalbeth “has proved beyond a doubt that she is a worthy recipient of the prestigious Gluckman medal”.

Professor Dalbeth’s laboratory and imaging research led to understanding the pathways that cause bone and joint damage in gout, leading to treatments that prevent structural joint damage. She has led clinical trials showing that urate-lowering therapy early in the disease can reduce gout flares and joint inflammation.

Her research in both pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments has been incorporated into international gout management guidelines.

Aligned to her research contributions, Professor Dalbeth has led initiatives to improve gout management within the community, particularly focused on destigmatisation and equity in gout management.

Key national roles include Chair of the Atlas of Healthcare Variation Gout Expert Advisory Group. She was a member of the Core Leadership Team of the 2020 American College of Rheumatology Gout Management Guidelines, and was the only physician outside North America to contribute to these guidelines.

She also works as a specialist rheumatologist at the Auckland District Health Board and is President of the New Zealand Rheumatology Association.

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