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The respected medical research scientist, Professor Sir Graham Liggins, died today after a long illness. He was aged 84.

Professor Sir Graham Liggins

Professor Sir Graham Liggins

It was fitting that the first tribute to Sir Graham, or “Mont” as he was known to friends came from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, who set up the Liggins Institute which is named in Sir Graham’s honour. Sir Peter said he  considered Sir Graham to be  a “great friend, mentor and hero”.

You can read Sir Peter’s tribute in full here. An excerpt:

In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, working out of National Women’s Hospital and The University of Auckland, Mont made a series of highly original observations that totally changed our understanding of pregnancy and birth. Importantly, he made discoveries which led him to develop the first treatment which made it possible for babies who were born prematurely, with lungs that were not functioning properly, to have a chance to breathe and survive.

The experiments that he undertook to demonstrate this were amazingly innovative and ground breaking. From a set of extraordinary insights and understandings of unexpected observations, he recognised that by giving steroid hormones to the mother he could mature the organs of the fetus to the extent that, even if it was born prematurely, its lungs could work. With extraordinary speed and in conjunction with Professor Ross Howie, he translated his discovery into a clinical trial which was remarkable for its rigour. The trial demonstrated that indeed the survival premature babies could be increased considerably.

This observation changed the face of neonatology worldwide and has been responsible directly and indirectly for saving an enormous number of lives. Without doubt it is considered the single most important advance in obstetrical and perinatal research of the last 50 years. He made many other important and ground breaking findings about the birth process and reproduction.