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Otago to honour distinguished graduate Sir Peter Gluckman

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Otago to honour distinguished graduate Sir Peter Gluckman

The University of Otago will this weekend confer an honorary doctor of science degree on one of its most distinguished graduates, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman.

Sir Peter is a world-leading medical researcher focusing on human growth and development and was appointed as the first Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor in 2009.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne says the University is delighted that it has the opportunity to formally recognise the enormous contributions Sir Peter has made to science, health, and society.

“Sir Peter is a truly outstanding New Zealander and one of Otago’s finest graduates. Not only is he an internationally leading researcher, he is passionate about translating scientific discoveries into real-world benefits for health and wellbeing.

“Furthermore, in his role as Chief Science Advisor he continues to provide rigorous, independent and influential evidence-based input to inform policy in areas of great national importance.”

After his schooling in Auckland and a medical intermediate year, Sir Peter enrolled in medicine at the University of Otago in 1967 and completed the degrees MB ChB in 1971. He then trained as a paediatrician with a particular interest in endocrinology, but after a couple of years in practice he went on to pursue a research career, initially in the United States.

He became a postdoctoral fellow and then a faculty member as an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, where he studied how fetal hormone systems developed and how fetal growth was controlled.

In 1980 Sir Peter returned to Auckland to establish a perinatal physiology group funded by the then Medical Research Council of New Zealand. He spent the next 17 years developing and leading a large group focused on developmental endocrinology and neuroscience, while also holding several senior administration positions at the University of Auckland, including Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

Sir Peter was appointed foundation director of the Liggins Institute in 2001, and in that same year received New Zealand’s top science award, the Rutherford Medal. He has published more than 550 refereed papers, 150 reviews and has authored specialist and popular books. His research has spanned perinatal neuroscience, neuroprotection, the regulation of fetal and postnatal growth, and other aspects of fetal physiology. His two major passions are epigenetics and evolutionary biology.

In 2003 he led the establishment of one of the Centres of Research Excellence, the National Research Centre for Growth and Development, now known as Gravida. An inter-institutional, inter-disciplinary virtual research network, Gravida brings together a diverse range of scientists from across New Zealand and the world, including a number of Otago researchers.

Among Sir Peter’s many contributions is co-inventing a “cooling cap” that has played an important role world-wide in limiting brain damage in newborns. He was also part of an international team that showed for the first time that during pregnancy a mother’s diet can alter the function of her child’s DNA—through a process called epigenetic change—and this can lead to her child tending to store more fat.

His achievements have earned him a number of previous honours. Among these are the Sir Charles Hercus Medal, being made a Companion, then a distinguished companion (now a knighthood), of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to medicine, and election as a Fellow of The Royal Society of London. He also enjoys the distinction of being the only New Zealander elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science in the United States and the Academy of Medical Sciences of Great Britain.

Professor Gluckman will receive his honorary doctorate at the 1pm graduation ceremony on Saturday 7 December and will deliver the graduation address.


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