An internationally eminent researcher into how the brain controls fertility, Professor Allan Herbison, is this year’s recipient of the University of Otago’s highest research honour, the Distinguished Research Medal.
The University awards the medal for outstanding scholarly achievement, including the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge, the development of innovative technology, or the development of concepts that lead to significant advances.
Professor Herbison is an Invercargill-born medical graduate of Otago who returned to the University in 2002 after 14 years of study and research at leading institutions in Britain and France. In 1991 he gained his PhD from the University of Cambridge and spent much of his early research career at Cambridge’s prestigious Babraham Institute.
Since his appointment as a Professor in Otago’s Department of Physiology, he has established a world-class research programme that has led to important findings about the brain circuitry controlling fertility in mammals. His discoveries, made through state-of-the-art biomedical techniques, are paving the way for new therapies for infertility and improved regulation of fertility in humans.
Announcing the honour, Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne said that Professor Herbison, who was selected from a strong field of candidates, is a richly deserving recipient of the University’s premier research award.
“I’m delighted that the University is able to formally recognise Allan’s enormous contributions, both as a researcher in his own right and through his inspirational leadership of research activities at Otago involving his discipline.”
Professor Herbison’s influential investigations of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons and the molecule kisspeptin, which both play crucial roles in the brain’s master control of ovulation and other aspects of reproduction, have been published in leading international journals such as Neuron, Journal of Neuroscience, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and Endocrinology. In total, Professor Herbison has authored more than 160 articles in peer-reviewed journals and books, and his work has been cited more than 6000 times by other researchers in their own publications.
The outstanding quality and promise of his research has been recognised through receiving several major multi-year grants from both the Marsden Fund of New Zealand and the Health Research Council (HRC). In 2007 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and in 2009 was awarded the HRC’s Liley medal in recognition of his scientific achievements.
Alongside his own sustained research output, Professor Herbison also established and directs the University’s Centre for Neuroendocrinology. This collaborative centre has internationally recognised research strengths in areas such as studying the effects of hormones on the brain and the neural regulation of reproduction, body weight, fluid balance and stress. It comprises nine laboratories and is the largest neuroendocrinology research cluster in the southern hemisphere.
He has played an important role in fostering the research careers of up-and-coming scientists at Otago through his supervision and mentoring of PhD students, research fellows, postdoctoral fellows and other research staff. Recognition of his contributions in this area includes being named as the inaugural Best PhD Supervisor in the 2010 Otago School of Medical Sciences Awards.
Professor Herbison says that after getting over the surprise of being awarded the medal in a University with such strength in research across so many disciplines, he was delighted.
“This award really reflects the outstanding team working with me here at Otago. There is no better honour than one given to you by your peers.”
The medal will be presented to Professor Herbison at a public lecture that he will give early next year.