Best Psychology PhD award
9 February 2009
Dr Nadine Kasparian completed her PhD in the School of Psychology in 2007 and won the Australian Psychological Society's 2008 Excellent PhD Thesis in Psychology Award.
Her PhD research, titled 'When melanoma runs in the family: The psychological and behavioural characteristics of individuals with a strong family history of melanoma', was supervised by Professor Phyllis Butow, from the School of Psychology, Associate Professor Bettina Meiser, from the Department of Medical Oncology at Prince of Wales Hospital, and Associate Professor Graham Mann, from the Faculty of Medicine.
One of only three winners across Australia in 2008, Nadine's research focused on the ways in which individuals with a strong family history of melanoma think about, and behave in relation to, melanoma risk.
"Melanoma is a major medical and public health problem in Australia, with almost 9 500 cases diagnosed annually and more than 1 100 deaths per year. In a small number of these cases, melanoma appears to run in the family," said Nadine.
"Two genes, called CDKN2A and CDK4, have been shown to cause inherited melanoma susceptibility. This means that, for people with a strong family history of melanoma, genetic testing may one day be an option in order to learn more about their chances of developing melanoma at some point in their life.
"My research looked at the psychology of people with this family history of melanoma and how families respond to genetic testing and whether it should be offered as part of the clinical care of individuals at increased risk," explained Nadine.
Nadine's cohort study was the first to examine uptake of genetic testing, as well as psychological, behavioural and cognitive outcomes associated with genetic counselling and testing for melanoma risk.
"The findings of our research provided preliminary evidence for healthy psychological, behavioural and cognitive adjustment following participation in genetic counselling and testing. However, in people who did not attend genetic counselling, we found they exercised lower levels of sun protection, skin self-examination, and doctor consultation for skin cancer screening, compared to clinical recommendations."
The team are now working to develop strategies to improve health practices in this high-risk group, including an international collaboration with the melanoma genetics consortium (www.GenoMEL.org) to develop a publically-available web-based melanoma risk calculator.
"I became interested in this research because I am curious about the different ways in which people think about and respond to new and evolving medical technologies such as genetic testing and other technologies," said Nadine.
The award from the Australian Psychological Society will be presented to Nadine at their 2009 Annual Conference, to be held from 30 September to 4 October 2009 in Darwin. The three 2008 Excellent PhD Thesis in Psychology Award winners have been invited to present their research findings at the conference.
"I am thrilled and honoured to have received this prestigious award from the Australian Psychological Society. Even more so, I'm very grateful to the Society for the many excellent opportunities they provide for early career researchers like myself and my colleagues," said Nadine.
Nadine also won a Young Tall Poppy Science Award in 2007 from the Australian Institute of Policy and Science for this research.
So what's next for this outstanding psychology researcher?
"After completing my PhD, I was awarded a Post Doctoral Clinical Research Fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. In addition to my cancer genetics work, this four year fellowship has allowed me to pursue a new research program in collaboration with both the Sydney Children's Hospital and the Children's Hospital at Westmead," said Nadine.
"This research is focusing on exploring the experiences and needs of parents with babies who have a major heart abnormality. We're particularly interested in understanding more about the potential differences in parental experiences and needs following prenatal versus postnatal diagnosis of congenital heart disease. The results of this research will be used to guide the development of evidence-based recommendations for the clinical and supportive care of families affected by congenital heart disease."
Learn more about the Australian Psychological Society's Excellent PhD Thesis in Psychology Award at: www.psychology.org.au/about/awards/thesis/
Contact: Katynna Gill
Phone: 02 9351 6997