Monday, March 4, 2024

PM’s Science Prize protecting newborns against brain damage

Auckland University’s Te Puiaki Pūtaiao Matua a Te Pirimia has been named in the Prime Minister’s Science Prize winners list today for its decade-long work on Neonatal Glucose Studies, preventing brain damage in newborns.

The team’s prize-winning research into neonatal hypoglycaemia, led by Dame Jane Harding, has changed practice around the world, saving millions of healthcare dollars and leading to the development of, and investment in, new, patented commercial products.

Dame Jane Harding.

Most importantly, their research has improved the lives of mothers and babies around the world.

The multi-disciplinary team of researchers have developed new methods to monitor blood sugar levels in babies, including Gluco-Light, a new non-invasive glucose monitoring device currently delivering promising first test results.

The team includes University of Canterbury’s clinically applied bioengineer Distinguished Professor Geoff Chase.

“It is a real world-first in affordable and accessible light-based glucose sensing, which reduces the need for painful and distressing repeated heel-prick tests or finger-stick tests,” Professor Chase says.

“Light-based sensing has been a ‘holy grail’ for decades, and advances in LED technology to enable high-speed fibre-optic internet have allowed us to create a non-invasive glucose sensor costing less than $500, which should last 5+ years so around $100 per year or less. Whether for those with diabetes, newborn infants, or those in the intensive care unit, this technology holds significant promise to improve care and outcomes, and significantly reduce costs to both patients and the health system,” he says.

Professor Chase has led development of Gluco-Light, which has also received significant further funding from Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge (SfTI), which funded its development to this point, to help translate it into a commercial and high-impact science outcome.

“Blood-sugar testing is invasive, whether it be 50c-$1 finger prick-test sticks no-one likes costing hundreds each year, or $2500 to $5000 per year for continuous glucose monitors,” Distinguished Professor Chase says.

The glucose sensing market is around US$30 billion per year worldwide, he says. Poor compliance with glucose sensing is a main reason type 2 diabetes has total costs to Aotearoa New Zealand and most Western countries of around 1-2% of GDP per year ($3b-$6billion per year in NZ).

“These sensors are being trialled by partners at Middlemore Hospital and Auckland Hospital and here at the University of Canterbury at our SfTI-funded Low Risk Clinical Unit in the Faculty of Engineering,” Distinguished Professor Chase says.

Distinguished Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Director of Mechatronics at the University of Canterbury, Professor Chase is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and a Distinguished Fellow of Engineering New Zealand. He is the SfTI Theme Leader – Medical Technologies, focusing on the research and application of model-based therapeutics that improve care, save lives, and reduce cost. As part of this role, Professor Chase also leads the Spearhead project: Home and community-based care – Type 2 diabetes.

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