Death of a genius
Thames-born scientist and obstetrician Sir Graham Collingwood Liggins has died at the age of 84. Liggins was described as one of New Zealand’s greatest scientists who undertook groundbreaking obstetrical research. Known to his friends and colleagues as Mont, Liggins followed his father into medicine to train as an obstetrician and gynaecologist. Liggins used his surgical skills on the pituitary gland in sheep to not only prove that the gland in the foetus controlled the timing of birth, but that the hormone responsible was cortisol. With paediatrician, Professor Ross Howie, Liggins conducted a controlled trial of pre-natal corticosteroids and showed a big reduction in respiratory distress syndrome in pre-term babies — a landmark study published in 1972. It was 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. “Without doubt it is considered the single most important advance in obstetrical and perinatal research of the last 5 years,” the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman said. Liggins received numerous fellowships, doctorates, awards and medals, became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 198 and was knighted in 1991, after receiving a CBE in 1984. Auckland University’s Liggins Institute was named in his honour.