Liggins investigator wins international research funding

17 October 2011

University of Auckland Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Liggins Institute researcher Professor Jane Harding has been awarded a prestigious individual investigator research project grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development - one of 21 institutes which make up the United States’ National Institutes of Health (NIH).

It is a very unusual achievement for investigators at institutions outside the US to access direct NIH funding, reflecting an NIH judgement that the project presents a special research opportunity which will lead to health benefits in the United States as well as elsewhere in the world.

The project, known as the CHYLD Study (Children with Hypoglycaemia and their Later Development) will be funded over five years as investigators follow the development of a unique cohort of children.

Professor Harding says that newborn babies frequently have periods of hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose concentrations), which in some cases may lead to brain damage. “At present we don’t know which babies will suffer brain damage or what glucose concentrations will trigger the damage. It is likely that the duration, severity and frequency of the hypoglycaemic episodes are all important factors,” she adds.

The children in the study represent a group that is unavailable elsewhere in the world because their blood glucose concentrations were monitored continuously over the first few days after their birth.

Investigators will assess the children’s mental and physical development, memory, vision and general health at two and four and a half years of age. They will then relate these outcomes to the periods of hypoglycaemia that many of them experienced as newborns. This information will help provide critical information about how newborn babies should be monitored and managed in order to prevent brain damage with its long-term consequences while minimising unnecessary interventions in newborns.

Professor Harding leads a multidisciplinary team of investigators including neuroscientist Dr Ben Thompson, Senior Lecturer in Psychological Medicine Dr Trecia Wouldes, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Deborah Harris and bioengineer Professor Geoffrey Chase of the University of Canterbury.

Auckland Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon said that Professor Harding’s achievement in winning the grant was outstanding. “This is a remarkable achievement, not only because the NIH rarely funds major projects outside the USA, but also because Professor Harding is carrying out the duties of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) while also producing world class research”.

“This ability of key staff to generate significant international research income is assuming ever greater importance as our ability to compete for domestic research funds is increasingly constrained by government policy”, he said.