Professor Lesley McCowan, an internationally renowned obstetrician with a research career spanning over three decades,
is this year’s recipient of the Gluckman Medal for her outstanding contributions to research.
The Gluckman Medal is the premier acknowledgement of excellence awarded each year by the Faculty of Medical and Health
Sciences at the University of Auckland. It was established in recognition of the contributions to the Faculty by
Distinguished Professor Sir Peter Gluckman who was Chair of the Department of Paediatrics and served as Dean for nine
Professor McCowan, ONZM, says she feels “thrilled and honoured” to be this year’s Gluckman Medal recipient.
“It’s fantastic to have your research and work acknowledged by your own faculty and peers,” she says.
“Clinical medicine is exciting but we can have a much greater impact on health by conducting high quality research. I
have been fortunate to be able to combine clinical work with research throughout my career.”
“Now I am enjoying mentoring junior academic colleagues in my department to carry on with this important work in the
future. I am also privileged to work with several teams of esteemed researchers both in NZ and internationally and this
award also recognizes the substantial contributions of those team members”.
Professor McCowan has worked particularly in the areas of fetal growth, stillbirth, and addressing the problem of
obesity in pregnant women. The results of this work have resulted in changes in clinical practice and in health
promotion campaigns directed at the public.
She has provided critical leadership within the University, in both the Auckland and Counties DHBs, nationally and
internationally. Her position as one of New Zealand’s leading clinical scientists has been recognised with national
awards, including being made a Companion of the Order of New Zealand in 2016.
In announcing the award, Professor John Fraser, Dean of FMHS, said Professor McCowan has made many distinguished
contributions to perinatal medicine, maternal medicine and child health and the Gluckman medal is a very fitting
recognition of her achievements.
“Professor McCowan has worked tirelessly to improve and promote the health of mothers and babies. I am sure the Faculty
will join me in congratulating her on this richly deserved recognition.”
Professor McCowan has over 210 peer reviewed publications and has presented at many international conferences during her
She says there are several highlights to her research career to date, including leading the Auckland Stillbirth Study
that reported for the first time that women who went to sleep lying on their back from 28 weeks’ of pregnancy had an
approximate three-fold increase in risk of late stillbirth. These research findings were then confirmed in a New Zealand
wide study and in international studies.
The next step the ‘Sleep on Side; Stillbirth Prevention Campaign’ funded by Curekids and supported by the Ministry of
Health launched in June 2018. The campaign advises expectant mums to go-to-sleep on their side from 28 weeks of
pregnancy with the aim of reducing the risk of stillbirth in the late stages of pregnancy.
Professor McCowan will be formally presented with the medal when she gives a lecture at the Peter Gluckman Medal Award
Ceremony later this year.
She is planning to include findings from the recent sleep position research program and also from studies in South
Auckland where her team have undertaken research designed to improve health outcomes in overweight mothers and their
The inaugural Gluckman Medal was awarded to Sir Richard Faull in 2002 for his work as founder and director of the
University’s Centre for Brain Research (CBR) that produces world-leading research on brain diseases.
Professor McCowan is only the second female academic to receive the Gluckman Medal. Professor Jane Harding, an
international expert in neonatal treatment and care, and one of New Zealand’s leading paediatricians, received it in