PM's prize 'pinnacle' for Dunedin Study

Staff (from left) Karen Tustin, Moana Theodore, Sandhya Ramrahka, David Ireland (in back row...
Staff (from left) Karen Tustin, Moana Theodore, Sandhya Ramrahka, David Ireland (in back row holding sign), Prof Richie Poulton, Vanessa Hayes (holding sign in back row), Jane Carroll, Jen Knox, Sean Hogan (back row, arm raised) and Jenny McArthur celebrate winning the Prime Minister's Science Prize. Photo supplied.
The University of Otago's internationally recognised Dunedin Study has won the Prime Minister's Science Prize, in what Otago researchers have hailed as a ''pinnacle'' achievement.

Study leader Prof Richie Poulton was ''over the moon'' with the $500,000 prize, which was presented to him and fellow researchers from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study in Wellington yesterday.

The prize amounted to a ''watershed'' moment for the study and recognised ''the efforts of so many people, over so many years'', he said.

Perhaps, most importantly, it ''recognises the generosity and commitment of the study members themselves''.

Prof Poulton (54) and fellow researchers were ''very proud, and humbled'' to gain the prize, which he regarded as the pinnacle of achievement for a New Zealand research group.

The prize went to Prof Poulton and key team members Terrie Moffitt, Murray Thomson, Jonathan Broadbent, Avshalom Caspi, Bob Hancox, Malcolm Sears, Nigel Dickson, Jennie Connor and Joanne Baxter.

Prof Poulton said the research provided the most detailed data on human development ever amassed and it was arguably the pre-eminent study of its type in the world.

Hundreds of international studies with significant societal impact have come from assessments of a cohort of 1037 children born at Queen Mary Maternity Hospital, Dunedin, in 1972-73. There are still 961 study members participating, representing 95% of those still alive.

Award organisers said the prize had gone to a research team that attracted millions of dollars of overseas funding annually and had influenced health and social policies internationally.

The prize money ''could not come at a better time'' because several new assessments for age 45 were being provided, in a 20-22-month-long process that would begin early next month, Prof Poulton said.

The funding would allow researchers to buy new, sophisticated equipment for measurement of hearing and vision.

The next phase in the assessment would involve several new components, ''including neuro- imaging, hearing, vision, kidney function, musculoskeletal function, as well as everything we have done in the past - everything that is age appropriate, where there is wear and tear on our study members' bodies''.

Otago University also won the supreme prize at the Prime Minister's science awards in 2014 and, with Niwa scientists, in 2011.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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