Image of the Liley Medal (obverse)
The Liley Medal (obverse)

16 November 2011

The HRC's Liley Medal was awarded to Dr Chris Pemberton at the New Zealand Research Honours Dinner held in Wellington on Wednesday 16 November 2011.

Dr Pemberton, from the University of Otago, Christchurch, has been honoured for his contribution to health and medical sciences in the field of cardiovascular medicine.

In a paper published in the premier cardiovascular research journal Circulation, Dr Pemberton and his colleagues uncovered evidence of a new biomarker for early-stage myocardial damage.

HRC Chief Executive, Dr Robin Olds said: “Dr Pemberton’s nominated paper was published in 2010, and his research has the potential to significantly accelerate the clinical diagnosis of heart attacks.”

Diagnosis of a heart attack relies on a combination of clinical presentation, ECG changes and, importantly, the appearance of biomarkers in the blood indicative of myocardial damage. The earlier, and more confidently a diagnosis can be made or excluded, the sooner vital treatments can be started, or the patient reassured.

Dr Pemberton’s paper has shown that a previously undiscovered fragment of the signal peptide of the molecule known as BNP is found in the circulation, and early evidence points to a rapid boost in levels shortly after myocardial infarction. If these results are confirmed in larger studies, this biomarker is likely to become a mainstay in the diagnosis or exclusion of myocardial infarction and related acute coronary syndromes.

For more information about the research projects, please contact the Dr Chris Pemberton, telephone: (03) 364 0887.

For information about how the HRC functions, please contact Dr Robin Olds, HRC Chief Executive, telephone: (09) 303 5204, mobile: 021 966 324, or email:; or Kristine Scherp, HRC Manager, Communications, telephone: (09) 303 5202 or email:

About the Liley Medal
The Liley Medal is awarded annually by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) for an outstanding contribution through research in the health and medical sciences.  The Medal recognises the individual who lead a piece of work that is a genuine breakthrough in research and which has gained international recognition.

About Sir William Liley
Sir William Liley KCMG, BMedSc, MB, ChB, PhD (ANU), Hon. DSc (VUW), Dip Obs, FRSNZ, FRCOG, Hon. FACOG (1929 – 1983)

Although it is more than 20 years since his passing Sir William Liley’s contribution to medical science, particularly in the area of obstetrics, is still celebrated.

Born in Auckland in 1929 Albert William Liley – who always preferred to be known as Bill – was educated at Royal Oak Primary School before moving on to Auckland Grammar where his intellectual capacity began to blossom.

Awarded a University National Scholarship in 1947 Bill Liley distinguished himself at both Auckland and Otago Universities.  He was gold medallist in anatomy in 1950, secured a Senior Scholarship in medicine and was awarded the Travelling Scholarship in medicine in 1954.

Instead of taking up the scholarship he headed for the Australian National University where he took up a research scholarship in physiology, working on various aspects of synaptic transmission.  Despite being a recently qualified medical graduate he had four papers published in the Journal of Physiology.

Bill Liley returned to Auckland as a Sandoz Research Fellow and in 1958 was awarded a Research Fellowship in obstetrics by the Medical Research Council of New Zealand, the HRC’s predecessor.  From that time until his premature death in 1983 he held a series of appointments with the MRC, including being a council member between 1972 and 1978, and Chairman of the South Pacific Health Committee between 1973 and 1978.

In 1968 Bill Liley was appointed to a personal Chair in Perinatal Physiology at The University of Auckland’s Postgraduate School of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.  He was particularly attracted to the problems of unborn and newly born children and his major focus became Rh haemolytic disease of the newborn – a major issue in obstetrics.  At the time he entered the field perinatal mortality was about 25 per cent.

One of his great contributions lay in extending the use of spectrophotometry of amniotic fluid to a much wider range of potentially affected pregnancies – work that gained him an international reputation.  The technique he developed made it possible to identify which baby could be retained safely in utero for a normal gestation period and which should be delivered.  As a result of his work perinatal mortality from haemolytic disease at National Women’s Hospital fell to eight per cent.

A CMG in 1967 was followed in 1973 by a knighthood (KCMG). Sir William’s work was also internationally recognised by a variety of organisations.  He served as a member of the WHO Expert Advisory Panel on maternal and child health from 1968 until his death.  He was an Honorary fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and was appointed a member of the International Association for Advice and Research on Mental Deficiency.  He also held several other honorary fellowships and memberships of prestigious societies overseas.

An extended biography prepared by Sir John Scott sums up his life in this way:

“Sir William Liley embodied many characteristics which have typified the leaders and giants of scientific endeavour in New Zealand.  He combined top-flight intellectual ability with practical skills, humanity and humility.  His accomplishments indicated to his generation and those coming after, that achievement on a world scale was very much within the grasp of dedicated scientists who chose to return or remain in New Zealand.”

About the HRC
The HRC is the Crown agency responsible for the management of the Government’s investment in public good health research. Ownership of the HRC resides with the Minister of Health, with funding being primarily provided from Vote Research, Science and Technology. A Memorandum of Understanding between the two Ministers sets out this relationship.

Established under the Health Research Council Act 1990, the HRC's statutory functions include:

  • advising the Minister and administering funds in relation to national health research policy
  • fostering the recruitment, education, training, and retention of those engaged in health research in New Zealand
  • initiating and supporting health research
  • undertaking consultation to establish priorities in health research
  • promoting and disseminating the results of health research to encourage their contribution to health science, policy and delivery
  • ensuring the development and application of appropriate assessment standards by committees or subcommittees that assess health research proposals.