Ethical questions take Bridget to Three Minute Thesis finals

9 October 2012

It was a case of short and sweet for PhD student Bridget Haire who will represent the University of Sydney at this week's finals of the Trans-Tasman Three Minute Thesis competition.

Bridget won the University of Sydney's stage of the competition with a presentation on her research on HIV treatment trials.

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition challenges postgraduate research students to present their research topic in just three minutes to an intelligent, non-specialist audience in an engaging way.

Bridget Haire is from the University's Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine at Sydney Medical School. In her talk she questions whether it is ethical to issue trial participants with a placebo in order to test the effectiveness of an established treatment.

A different approach would see participants given a trial treatment instead of the placebo and the comparison would be made between two treatments.

As part of an HIV trial in Africa, for example, participants were issued with condoms, which offer varying rates of protection against HIV, but not supplied with a pill which is already shown to have a high success rate at preventing the spread of infection.

"What we need is a way of conducting trials that is fair, that is feasible and that is non-exploitative," said Bridget.

"We have to blend the best interests of research participants with the need to develop new HIV prevention tools."

Other thesis topics covered in the University's competition included using exercise to address post-traumatic stress, a new technique to test big cats for kidney disease, the treatment of diabetes in pregnant women and how computers understand human language.

Bridget is a policy analyst and advocate for HIV prevention and management, and has worked in the HIV community sector for more than 15 years. She recently completed her Master of Bioethics at the University.

The 3MT competition aims to give researchers a chance to practice explaining their work to people unfamiliar with their field, an important skill when applying for funding or engaging media attention.

Representatives from more than 30 universities across Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the South Pacific will compete in the finals being held on 11 October at the University of Queensland.

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