Pregnancy expert earns top academic title

Apr 21 2016

The University of Newcastle (UON) has appointed leading HMRI researcher Professor Roger Smith AM as its next Laureate Professor to reflect his remarkable contribution to the understanding of human pregnancy.

Professor Smith, co-leader of the HMRI Pregnancy and Reproduction Program, joins a prestigious group of only 10 UON academics to receive the highest academic honour. The Laureate title is reserved to recognise individuals for their world-class academic achievements and research impact on an international scale.

UON’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Caroline McMillen, said she was delighted Professor Smith had been awarded the title for his outstanding contribution to the understanding of reproductive science and the causes of premature births.

“Professor Smith has had a distinguished academic career, a global reputation as a leading researcher and eminent clinician, and in 2013 was honoured with a Member of the Order of Australia.”

“This appointment is a reflection of his internationally recognised leadership in the endocrinology of pre-term labour and the enormous impact of his research in maternal health in Indigenous Australians,” said Professor McMillen.

Laureate Professor Roger Smith, an endocrinologist, said he was honoured by the appointment and highlighted that it also acknowledged the ongoing hard work and commitment of his research colleagues, many who have worked with him for more than 20 years on this ground-breaking research.

“We know how to put a man on the moon, but we still don’t know the mechanisms that regulate how we are born. Since 1981 at UON, my team’s research has been asking and answering these questions.

“The answers matter as what happens inside the mother’s womb, the birth weight and gestational length at the time of birth are strong determinants of the future health of the offspring including school performance, future earnings and likelihood of diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart disease.”

“We now know babies born with low birth weights and prematurely are less likely to do well at school, and children who fail to complete high school are 80 times more likely to go to prison. Our research is focused on the causes of premature childbirth and the most effective therapeutic approach to improve the outcomes,” said Laureate Professor Smith.

Laureate Professor Smith also noted the important work his team has done in the Indigenous community.

“The problems of low birth weight and premature birth are twice as common in Aboriginal babies as in non-Aboriginal Australians.”

“We have set-up the Gomeroi gaaynggal-Gomeroi babies program to close the gap by identifying the causes of premature babies, small babies and babies with reduced renal function and building the right public health programs to change the current outcomes.”

Laureate Professor Smith concluded “we want to ensure all babies are well constructed so they have the best chance for a healthy and productive life and we are helping to solve the maternal, foetal and neonatal health and social problems that determine that start to life.”

Laureate Professor Roger Smith is the Co-Director for the University’s Priority Research Centre (PRC) for Reproductive Science, Director of the University’s Mothers and Babies Research Centre and Director of the Department of Endocrinology at John Hunter Hospital.