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Waikato Doctor Receives Top National Prize

11 April 2014

Waikato Doctor Receives Top National Prize

Accolades for the Waikato nurse practitioner behind the life changing Sugar Babies study just keep coming.

Dr Deborah Harris’ thesis on neonatal hypoglycaemia has received a University of Auckland’s Vice Chancellor’s Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis in 2013.

Dr Harris’ thesis was one of just five awarded the prize out of 321 doctoral theses completed in 2013 and one of 18 nominated for the top prize.

Her thesis was nominated by the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, on behalf of Auckland University’s Liggins Institute where the research was carried out.

The study took place in Waikato Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where Dr Harris works as a neonatal nurse practitioner.

“I am humbled to receive the award, but at the same time, delighted for our team,” she said.

“I have been privileged to have been taught and guided by outstanding clinicians and researchers at both Waikato Hospital and the Liggins Institute within the University of Auckland.”

Dr Harris recruited the babies and families who took part in the study, which looked at the best way to detect and manage neonatal hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels), which is a common problem and a preventable cause of brain damage in newborn babies.

A media release issued by the university said: “Deborah found that new techniques for monitoring babies at risk were safe and reliable, but not yet appropriate for widespread clinical use. She showed wide variation in practice across Australia and New Zealand, leading to reassessment of current screening guidelines.

“She also showed that dextrose gel is a safe and effective treatment that can be recommended for first line treatment of hypoglycaemia in late preterm and term babies.

“Her studies have substantially increased understanding of neonatal hypoglycaemia and are likely to alter clinical management.”

Dr Harris said she felt incredibly honoured by the award, but that the most important thing for her remains “the difference that we are now making to mothers and their babies”.

The Sugar Babies study ran between 2008-2010 and saw the blood sugar levels of 514 hypoglycaemic babies monitored for 48 hours after their births.

The study was designed to assess whether treatment with dextrose gel is more effective than feeding alone at reversing neonatal hypoglycaemia in at-risk babies (e.g. from pregnancies complicated by maternal diabetes, preterm birth, and low birthweight).

The research was led by Professor Jane Harding from the University of Auckland, with Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Deborah Harris and Neonatal paediatrician and Auckland University’s Waikato Clinical School of Medicine clinical senior lecturer Dr Phil Weston.

There will be an award ceremony held in May.

For more information about The Sugar Babies Study, visit

About Waikato District Health Board and Health Waikato:

Waikato DHB is responsible for planning, funding and providing quality health and disability support services for the 373,220 people living in the Waikato DHB region. It has an annual turnover of $1.2 billion and employs more than 6450 people.

Health Waikato is the DHB’s main provider of hospital and health services. It has six groups across five hospital sites, three primary birthing units, two continuing care facilities and 20 community bases offering a comprehensive range of primary, secondary and tertiary health services.

A wide range of independent providers deliver other Waikato DHB-funded health services - including primary health, pharmacies and community laboratories.

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