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Breakthrough in understanding of genes

Breakthrough in understanding of genes and depression wins Liley Medal

Auckland, 17 November 2004

Identifying a genetic connection between life stress and depression has earned the University of Otago’s Associate Professor Richie Poulton the inaugural Liley Medal for health research. The medal, to be awarded annually by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC), recognises an individual whose research has made an outstanding contribution to the health and medical sciences.

Associate Professor Poulton, Director of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit, was awarded the prestigious medal for research that has opened up the exciting new field of behavioural genetics and provided new insights into the role of environment on gene expression.

The study used information from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study that follows the lives of close to 1,000 people born in Dunedin 32 years ago. HRC Chief Executive, Dr Bruce Scoggins, says the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study is widely recognised as one of the world’s foremost longitudinal cohort studies and one the HRC is proud to have supported since it began in 1972.

“The paper that won this award has been internationally recognised as a major breakthrough in our understanding of gene-environment interactions,” he says.

More…. Published in the international journal Science, Associate Professor Poulton’s research was voted the 2nd most important breakthrough in 2003 in any area of science by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The work has received glowing tributes from international leaders in the field. One leading authority said about the study “It might not be an exaggeration to say that, if replicated, the study will turn out to have been a watershed moment in the history of behavioural genetics.” The findings have since been replicated in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

The Liley Medal is named after Sir William Liley KCMG, BMedSc, MBChB PhD FRSNZ, FRCOG to recognise his lifetime contributions to health and medical sciences.

Sir William (Bill) Liley developed techniques enabling the first blood transfusion to a baby in the womb in 1963. He was able to diagnose Rh hemolytic (blood) disease by taking amniotic fluid from the mother during pregnancy, now a routine diagnostic procedure. These discoveries saved many babies’ lives and made him the father of fetal medicine.

The medal was designed by Philip O’Shea Esq NZ Herald of Arms Extraordinary to Her Majesty The Queen, and crafted by Thomas Fattorini and Sons of Birmingham. The reverse design features fern fronds, reflecting Sir Liley’s work – some coiled (alluding to new birth), and other fully extended (healthy) fronds. In Maori art, the coiled fern frond often suggests an embryo.

Associate Professor Poulton was presented the medal at a ceremony on Wednesday 17 November 2004.


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