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Liggins Institute Prematurity Study Gains Funding


11 September 2003

For Immediate Use

Liggins Institute Prematurity Study Gains HRC Funding

Assessing the hormonal differences of children born early will be the focus of researchers at The University of Auckland Liggins Institute who have recently gained Health Research Council (HRC) funding.

The HRC announced the funding today.

Paediatric endocrinologists Associate Professor Wayne Cutfield and Dr Paul Hofman will lead the team, which also includes Dr Mark Harris, Associate Professor Bernhard Breier and Dr Mark Vickers.

In an earlier HRC-funded study, the lead researchers found that children born very early were shorter than expected from their parents’ height. In addition, their body tissues were resistant to the hormone insulin. Such resistance can be a precursor to type-2 diabetes.

The researchers propose that the short stature results from the body’s poor recognition of growth hormone. They will use the new HRC funding to investigate this theory.

“Growth hormone has a number of important roles in the body. If we prove our hypothesis, the findings might indicate that premature babies would benefit from growth hormone treatment to improve growth and metabolism,” said Dr Cutfield.

The team will recruit children aged between four and ten years old who were born at least eight weeks early, and compare their hormonal test responses with those of children born at term. They will also measure the bone density and fatty tissue of the children, as these are strongly affected by the action of the growth hormone.

“If we can tease out what is happening with growth hormone and insulin and the tissues they act on, it should then be possible to develop interventions to prevent illness developing,” said Dr Hofman.

“There is already a lot of debate about the ideal nutrient or food intake for premature newborns. Compared to the levels of nutrition they would receive in their mother’s wombs, all receive inadequate protein intake at first, followed by elevated fat intake.

“It may be that interventions during this critical period of development, rather than during adult life, will prove more effective in preventing or reducing the prevalence of type-2 diabetes,” he said.

The Liggins project was one of 51 research contracts awarded by the HRC in its annual funding round, chosen from a total of 252 applications.


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