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SMHR Early Career Researcher Awards 2015

During the first few months of 2015, SMHR sought applications from Australia’s finest early career mental health researchers, who needed fellowship support to continue their important work.  We received applications from across Australia, covering mental health projects across the spectrum of basic science, prevention and early intervention, through to treatment and recovery.  During March-April, SMHR brought together leading researchers from the major mental health institutions across Australia to review and rank the applications.  This culminated in a day-long meeting in May,where the expert panel identified the top 13 applications to be funded for the next 12 months.  These 13 ECR Awards will be supported by the funds donated by the Australian community as part of the successful ABC's Mental As… 2014 campaign.

 SMHR is pleased to announce that the successful 2015 Early Career Research Award recipients are:

Dr Manreena Kaur

The University of Sydney

Dr Manreena Kaur is a postdoctoral researcher at the Brain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney and the coordinator of the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) platform at St Vincent’s Private Hospital. After completing her undergraduate degree in biomedical sciences at University of Newcastle, U.K., Dr Kaur chose a career in researching emerging mental illness in young people. In 2014, Dr Kaur completed her PhD research which provided critical insights into disturbances in electrical brain processes in early stage mood- and psychotic-disorders. Dr Kaur’s career aspiration is to utilize cutting-edge and traditional neuroscience technologies to investigate next-generation treatments for emerging mental illness, focusing on personalized and early intervention strategies. With the support of the SMHR-Medibank ECR Award, Dr Kaur will investigate brain changes associated with improvements in depression with repetitive TMS treatment in young peopleand thus, seeks to identify features of patients that distinguish responsiveness to repetitive TMS treatment.

Manreena is the recipient of the SMHR-Medibank ECR Award, thanks to the generous donation of the Medibank Health Research Fund during the Mental As...Campaign.


Dr Mark Larsen

Black Dog Institute

Dr Mark Larsen is a researcher at the Black Dog Institute in Sydney. His background is in biomedical engineering, and developing technology and apps to help people manage their health conditions and treatments. Since moving to Sydney, he has been working at the Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention where he will be working on the RAFT (Reconnecting after a suicide attempt) project, supported by his SMHR ECR Award.

Suicide is a leading cause of death in Australia, and is the leading cause of death for young people. The first days after discharge from hospital following a suicide attempt is a particularly high-risk period,although many people feel they do not have enough support. The RAFT project will speak to people who have previously made a suicide attempt to find what support might be useful, and to develop this into a text message support system.


Dr Edwin Lim

Macquarie University

Dr Edwin Lim is dedicated neuroscientist who has been working on the biochemical pathway of tryptophan and its role in neurological conditions.Tryptophan is a key protein building block obtained through the diet and its metabolism is interesting because it is responsive to environmental factors such as exposure to pathogens and sunlight which, in-turn, can affect the important biological functions of sleep, mood, immune response and brain activity.  Previously, Edwin  had shown that disruption of the tryptophan pathway was important in various psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, major depressive disorders and autism, which opened promising research potential for biomarker discovery and treatment. In this fellowship, he will examine how a particular gene mutation may disrupt the tryptophan pathway in autism.  By mapping and understanding the changes of the pathway, treatment strategies to “re-balance” the tryptophan pathway may be devised reversing the abnormal biological functions that are associated with autism and other mental disorders.


Dr Christina Marel

The University of New South Wales

Dr Christina Marel is a Research Fellow at the Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use,National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW. Following the completion of her PhD, which examined approaches to volatile substance misuse among Indigenous Australians in Central Australia,she has been working to improve our understanding of, and response to,co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders in complex populations (i.e., those with multiple chronic conditions who often require a range of long-term health, social and support services).

With this fellowship, she aims to better understand the pathways and risk factors of relapse and recovery from heroin dependence. This will enable us to identify specific “at-risk” periods where individuals who follow particular pathways are more vulnerable to relapse, overdose and incarceration, which has the potential to guide more effective interventions and public health responses. This information will be used to develop a computerised program that can produce individualised models of risk for each person.


Dr Nina McCarthy

The University of Western Australia

Dr Nina McCarthy's background is in genetics and she completed her PhD in Ireland in 2012. Following this Nina moved to Perth to take up a postdoctoral position at the Centre for the Genetic Origins of Health and Disease, UWA. There she met Prof Assen Jablensky,who has been running the Western Australian Family Study of Schizophrenia inPerth for 20 years. They established a collaboration to investigate the genetics of schizophrenia, using this large cohort. The SMHR ECR Award will support Nina's work in trying to identify genes which play a role in schizophrenia. Nina is particularly interested in the genetics of Schizophrenia as she thinks there is so much yet to be discovered in this area, and the potential benefits of gaining abetter understanding of the genetic architecture of schizophrenia are substantial. 


Dr Allison Milner

Deakin University

Dr Allison Milner is a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University. Her current areas of research interest include the influence of employment characteristics, quality of work, job stress, and unemployment as determinants of mental health and suicidality. Allison’s work ranges across a number of externally-funded etiologic and intervention projects. She works with key policy stakeholders to promote research on the link between work and suicide, and is the co-chair for an international panel of researchers aiming to promote workplace suicide prevention. Greater attention to suicides occurring among working people is necessary considering that the majority of deaths in Australia occur in the employed population.  The SMHR ECR Award will allow Allison to investigate whether access to lethal means modifies the risk of suicide in high-risk occupations. This information holds the potential to influence suicide prevention practices in the employed population.


Dr Nicola Newton

The University of New South Wales

Dr Nicola Newton's interest in mental health research stemmed from a young age. Nicola grew up with a mum who was a psychiatric nurse and always had interesting stories to tell.  Subsequently, she completed a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) at Macquarie University and then a PhD in Public Health and Community Medicine from UNSW. During her career, Nicola has been lucky enough to work alongside some of Australia’s leaders in psychiatric research, Professor Maree Teesson and Professor Gavin Andrews, who have been amazing mentors and helped her develop into an independent and passionate researcher.  

Nicola's overall vision is to improve the health of young Australians by developing and implementing innovative and effective prevention for substance use and mental disorders. The SMHR ECR Award has provided Nicola the opportunity to work towards this goal by trialling the first online program for students and their parents to prevent substance use and mental disorders amongst adolescents.


Dr Bridianne O'Dea

Black Dog Institute

Dr Bridianne O’Dea is a mental health researcher currently working at the Black Dog Institute in Sydney. In 2013, Bridianne graduated with a PhD in Health Sciences at the University of Sydney after completing an honours degree in e-mental health. Her PhD examined the relationship between social networking sites and emotional well being in teenagers. Bridianne has always been interested in understanding how our online behaviour, such as the way we share our thoughts and feelings with others via the internet impacts our mental well being and our risk of suicide. The SMHR ECR Award will allow Bridianne to investigate whether individuals’ sharing of information on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook is indicative of suicide risk and how the social network may be engaged to prevent suicide.


Dr Christina Perry

Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

After studying psychology at UNSW, Dr Christina Perry came down to Melbourne with her young family to take up a postdoctoral position in the Behavioural Neuroscience division at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.  Christina's research focuses on substance abuse disorders. She uses animal models to investigate the neural effects and substrates of drugs of abuse and drug-seeking behaviour. Christina is particularly interested in developing novel and translatable strategies to treat substance abuse. Her PhD focused on ways of reducing relapse to alcohol-seeking, but Christina is moving away from this to examine the long-term effects of alcohol abuse. The SMHR ECR Award will allow Christina to investigate the mechanisms of alcohol-related dementia.  She will also look at whether symptoms of alcohol related dementia can be improved with regular exercise.


Dr Simon RIce

Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health

Dr Simon Rice is a clinical psychologist with a research interest in youth e-mental health interventions and young men’s mental health. He has worked in clinical and research roles at Orygen in Melbourne since 2010.  Simon is a member of the Online Intervention and Innovation team at Orygen, who specialise in developing and evaluating innovative internet-based interventions utilising social networking, peer and clinical moderator support.  Being awarded the SMHR ECR Award will enable Simon to work closely with the clinical team at e-headspace – Australia’s e-mental health service for young people – in expanding their platform to provide sustainable models of longer-term online support. Simon is also passionate about improving young men’s access to mental health services, and is developing a model of engagement though physical activity.  Simon’s projects aim to increase rates of access to mental health support for young people, and contribute to the next generation of youth e-mental health interventions.


Dr Simon Rosenbaum

The University of New South Wales

Exercise offers many benefits for both physical and mental health, yet unfortunately those who are most likely to benefit, are often least likely to be physically active. People experiencing mental illness face enormous barriers to participating in exercise, contributing to the high rates of preventable cardiovascular disease and gap in life expectancy. Dr Simon Rosenbaum's passion for mental health research came from working as an exercise physiologist within mental health facilities and subsequently through contributing to the evidence base demonstrating that structured exercise should be a routine part of treatment for mental disorders. With the SMHR ECR Award, Simon will investigate the benefits of resistance training, or muscle-building exercise for young people experiencing a psychotic illness. It is hoped that not only will the exercise intervention provide direct benefits to the young people, but will also contribute to making the mental health service more accessible to those who can often be reluctant to seek treatment.


Dr Kiley Seymour

Macquarie University

Much of Dr Kiley Seymour's previous research has addressed fundamental questions about basic brain function, in particular how the human brain allows us to ‘see’. Recently, Kiley has translated her findings in this area to provide insight into brain dysfunction and the perceptual disturbances reported in schizophrenia.  The SMHR ECR Award will allow Kiley to apply new methods from vision science to examine perceptual abnormalities associated with processing other people’s eye-gaze in schizophrenia. Its purpose is to address key knowledge gaps concerning the link between disruptions of sensory processing in schizophrenia and symptoms that characterise the illness, specifically, distorted perceptions and beliefs (e.g., delusions of persecution) and poor social functioning. Kiley's hope is that this innovative new approach will provide a better understanding of the basis of social-cognitive impairment in schizophrenia to inform development of new treatments to help redress poor social functioning in schizophrenia.


Dr Lexine Stapinski

University of New South Wales

Dr Lexine Stapinski began her research career at Macquarie University, where her PhD explored anxiety, and what keeps it going. At the same time Lexine was working in clinical practice to help people manage their anxiety. Lexine learned that many anxiety sufferers also have alcohol problems, and yet standard treatments focus on one or the other, ignoring the links between them. So after graduating she worked with colleagues to develop and test a new treatment for adults, targeting the interaction between anxiety and drinking problems. Lexine's subsequent research in the UK showed that drinking to cope with anxiety also predicts risky alcohol use among teenagers. At UNSW, her team in the Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use is already implementing programs to prevent the development of alcohol use problems among young people. The SMHR ECR Award will allow Lexine and her team to more clearly understand how anxiety and alcohol problems develop and interact, and how we can intervene early on to reduce their impact and prevent escalation.

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