Gil Barbezat
Photo by Alan Dove

Otago Medical Research Foundation patron Gil Barbezat has been connected with the Foundation for many years, and he’s full of admiration for the doors it continues to open.

Swiss-born Gil’s initial medical education was in South Africa – his first study as a young physician-researcher investigated gastro intestinal function in malnourished children there. Publications from that research enabled him to secure a post in a prestigious research centre in Los Angeles set up to study hormones affecting digestion, opening doors to valuable international research collaborations.

He and his wife and family relocated to New Zealand in 1978, continuing the research interests he had developed in Cape Town.

The now Emeritus Professor of Medicine sought OMRF funding for trials not long after he set up a gastrointestinal research lab in the University of Otago Medical School at that time. “The beauty of OMRF funding to initiate a project meant we gained proof of concept, which meant we could then qualify for a larger Health Research Council grant to take it further.”

The OMRF went on to fund several of his New Zealand-based projects, as well as a number of his Summer Student Scholars and research fellows.

His distinguished research career has since taken him around the world. He has contributed important information to the understanding of the role of hormones and their gut receptors, and on the effect of medications which act on these receptor sites to produce significant therapeutic benefits to patients.

Members of the University of Otago clinical teaching staff in medicine were required to maintain clinical expertise as well as conducting teaching and research.  Practising as a consultant gastroenterologist in Dunedin provided Gil with a real connection between patients and clinical practitioners and informed his teaching and research programmes.

“Research-informed teaching is vital in the training of doctors; we all need to appreciate the value of solid science as well as the art of dealing sensitively with complex human situations. “It takes a team to translate research into clinical practice – I liken each team member’s contribution to notches on a key. Without every notch the key is not going to unlock what we need to know – it is no longer worth trying to do it all on your own.”

Gil has also chaired a number of research committees, including the OMRF Scientific Committee, which gave him an insight into some world class research.

As much as he has been impressed by the many research projects the OMRF has invested in over the years, he is equally proud of their student summer scholarship support. “The OMRF relationship provided a very necessary foot on the first steps of a research career.”

“These students have been given an opportunity from a young age to appreciate what is required for good research. This encompasses giving them a taste of science, and the discipline and outlook needed to complete a project successfully, which has paved the way for many to carve out successful research careers.” 

“I’ve enjoyed following their progress, including for example, that of Professor Terrie Inder, now holding a prestigious chair in Paediatric Genetics at the Harvard Medical School in Boston.”

“The scholarships also introduce students to the necessary science-based networks – I know from experience these links are so very important to open doors.”

As the Foundation’s patron, Gil enjoys an ongoing interest in medical education and research, and in community affairs.