Distinguished Professor Jane Harding's career has always been focused on better outcomes for newborn babies and their families, so during the coronavirus crisis her thoughts have been with the people who became parents during lockdown.

"It must have been really difficult for the new families and the people looking after them ... and I know there were so many new mums and babies without extended family to support them."

Harding said she was "surprised and quite overwhelmed" when she learned she was to be appointed a dame companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her world-leading research into the health of newborn babies.

She studied the impact of low blood sugar levels on premature babies' brain development and developed a simple and cheap intervention in the form of a dextrose gel, which has changed the outcome for millions of babies around the world.

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"It's wonderful ... it's helped decrease the number of babies separated from their mums and rushed to an ICU where they get a drip put in, and it's increased the instances of breastfeeding."

Because it was such a simple treatment, it was picked up and used around the world very quickly, which delighted Harding.

Now, she is leading a large programme of work to understand the long-term outcomes of improved nutrition around the time of birth.

"We need to be sure that treatments that appear to have value in the short term ... don't have later adverse effects."

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Harding is also focused on building up and supporting the future scholars and researchers of New Zealand at the University of Auckland-based Liggins Institute and within her capacity as the New Zealand Secretary for the Rhodes Trust.

Harding was awarded New Zealand's top science honour, the Rutherford Medal, in September last year.

At 64, she isn't slowing down.

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"There are always more questions to be answered."