Meet Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee

Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee is one of UC’s newest Professors, as announced in 2015.

Where are you from and what/where did you study?

Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee
Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee

I was, at one point, American. After completing my Master’s degree I worked clinically in hospitals for about 14 years before returning for a PhD.  My university degrees are all from American Universities (East Texas State University – BSc, University of Texas – MA, University of Memphis –  PhD) but I had the opportunity to do my dissertation research at University Hospital Vienna in Austria.  So I spent the final two years of my PhD in Austria.

How long have you worked at UC?

I arrived in NZ on January 1, 2000 and started work as soon as everyone else came back to work.  It was my 32nd move in 41 years of living. So here is where I will stay.

What are the key achievements in your career so far?

Leaving clinical work was a difficult decision as I love patient care. But through research I am able to develop treatments that will benefit many, rather than providing services to only a few.

Key achievements would include engagement with district health board clinicians to reduce pneumonia rates from 27% to about 10% in a very short time window, using a structured protocol.

By far the greatest achievement would be the establishment of the Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research in 2015.  This clinical research facility is a wonderful convergence of the clinical service delivery for the patients that motivate me and the research activity that challenges me.

What is your key research interest and why are you passionate about it?

I work in the area of swallowing and swallowing disorders. This physiologic system is a highly complicated reflex, but is amazingly capable of modulation and recovery after brain injury.  The trick is figuring out how to get IN to the system….if you can do that, recovery is possible. So our big interest at the Rose Centre is on the development of bioengineering applications that can be used by patients as a form of biofeedback to modulate physiologic behaviour and recover swallowing function.  There is no greater reward for your efforts that seeing someone eat again after they have been unable to eat for many years.

Why do you enjoy your role?

LOVE, love, love my postgraduate students. I have the best group of smart, motivated students from around the world who have come to study in my lab.  They challenge my thinking, eat up enormous amounts of my time and bake killer banana bread for lab group.  And then I’m rewarded by seeing ex-students do wonderful things as they establish their own career. Case in point….I am so gratified to see Phoebe Macrae return to the lab after completing a post doc at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  She is now here as a academic peer to make her own mark on the development of the Rose Centre and put her own twist on our research programme.