Air NZ logoSupporting neonatal-related medical research is one the three core objectives of The Little Miracles Trust.  Through advances in understanding and clinical care, we can help thousands of future babies – in NZ and around the world. 

The Little Miracles Trust is extremely grateful to Air New Zealand for helping us to advance neonatal research.  In late June, they helped Melissa Gibson (Senior Clinical Research Nurse, Department of Paediatrics & Child Health – at the University of Otago, Wellington) to attend the Fetal & Neonatal Physiological Society (FNPS) conference in the Netherlands.  

Read below for an insight into the trip and the neonatal research it will advance, as written by Melissa Gibson.  Without the support with flights from Wellington to Maastricht the opportunity to advance key research programmes and build networks for future collaboration would not have been possible.  


Beautiful Conference Buildings In Melissa’s words:

Thanks to Air New Zealand and The Little Miracles Trust I headed off to The Netherlands on Friday 22 June 2018.  I had fantastic flights and lounge access all the way through to London where I managed a few hours sightseeing before my final flight to Amsterdam.  After a night in Amsterdam I took a very scenic train ride down to Maastricht where the Fetal and Neonatal Physiological Society (FNPS) Meeting for 2018 was being held.  Maastricht is a beautiful old city with people cycling down cobbled streets.  The conference was held at the Rolduc Abbey in Kerkrade which is a 900 year old Abbey.  The Abbey itself still has Monks in training.  It was a beautiful and very historic setting – the perfect place to meet and sit and talk with the Professors who are international leaders in perinatal research.    

The conference began on the Sunday night with a Keynote presentation about fetal behaviour and perinatal mortality which was a thought provoking session that gave me a much greater understanding of some of the things that happen before our babies get to NICU. The presentation was followed by a welcome function and dinner which was a great way to get to know the people there.  On Monday morning Dr Max Berry and I started the day with a run to Germany (really – we crossed the international border!) before a shared traditional Dutch breakfast with the rest of the Delegates. For me, that was definitely one of the highlights of the trip – how often do nurses get to sit and discuss that latest thinking in Neonatal Care with a table full of world-leading scientists?   

In the days that followed there were many presentations from some incredible international speakers.  It was fascinating to get an insight into the pre-clinical work that sets up the trials that we are conducting in the NICU.  I learnt a huge amount about HIE (Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy) which will be very useful for not only the PAEAN study that we are doing, but also for caring for these infants in NICU and their families. HIE is a condition resulting from a lack of oxygen to the brain at birth. Every year approximately 50 – 70 babies in New Zealand have moderate to severe brain injury at birth because of this. The PAEAN study we are part of is looking at using a medication called erythropoietin along with therapeutic hypothermia (cooling) to see if it helps improve these babies’ outcomes.  New Zealand has helped lead the way to helping these babies – Professor Alistair Gunn from the University of Auckland was the first to show that cooling could reduce brain injury in large animals around the time of birth.  This has led to the development of ‘cooling’ to protect the newborn baby’s brain from further damage. For further information about Professor Gunn and his incredible work see…

Melissa Gibson Conference Group ShotThere were also sessions on growth restricted and preterm infants and how being small affects them while in the NICU and for the rest of their lives; and importantly, ideas about what we as a community of scientists and clinicians can do to help.  This is particularly relevant as we are about to start recruiting for the ‘Unicorn Babies’ study where we will be looking to prove whether or not preterm babies are deficient in creatine (an important building block for brain development).  Wellington is currently leading the way in preterm research with Dr Maria Saito-Benz continuing her NIMO studies looking at how our tiny NICU babies are affected by routine care, medications and blood transfusions. 

For details on the Unicorn study, head to: 

For details on the NIMO study, head to:  and 

The conference was very social.  It’s a ‘rule’ with the FNPS meeting that all attendees stay at the venue so that amazing discussions start at breakfast and carry on through lunch and dinner!  There was a fantastic dinner function at the Gaia Zoo where we had a private tour of the zoo; we worked through how to set up a new neonatal trial against a back drop of giraffes being fed!  
I met so many incredible people and was lucky enough to spend a night in Maastricht after the conference concluded. I was invited to spend some time with the Maastricht clinical team and tour the Maastricht NICU.  It was great to get this insider’s view of another Unit and to see how they do things.  
We’ve come away from the meeting with plans well advanced for several international collaborations and are expecting some very talented people to visit us here in Wellington.  I have also been asked to represent NZ at a workshop in Latvia in March next year where I will be leading sessions on the management of cooled babies in the NICU.  This is a really exciting opportunity and a great way to put the amazing work we do in Wellington on the map.  I have made life long international friends whom I look forward to catching up with later this year at other meetings.  I feel so incredibly lucky to have had this experience and be able to bring some exciting research studies back to Wellington.  

In addition to the links provided above on the NIMO and Unicorn studies, you can:

Thanks Air New ZealandThanks Air New Zealand

The Little Miracles Trust wants to say a HUGE thanks to Air New Zealand for working with us and helping to advance neonatal research – therefore enhancing the outcomes for many thousands of babies who enter the world prematurely, or full-term with a health issue and/or complication.  

Be proud you’re helping to advance work that will enhance understanding and the care of thousands of future babies.. 

Melissa Gibson Pen and tickets







Note: All research we support has appropriate ethics sign off.