Awards give early career researchers a chance to excel

Thursday 02 December 2021

When Dr Katie Brooker learnt about the significant gaps in healthcare experienced by people with intellectual disability, she decided she wanted to make a change.

While Katie gained an understanding of the social determinants of health during her undergraduate degree that could help her contextualise the health disparities she had  witnessed  growing  up, it was a realisation that researchers were the people making the most difference that propelled her to pursue a career with Mater Research.

It is this passion that also secured Katie a 2021 Mater Research Early Career Researcher (ECR) Seeding Grant for clinical and health service research.

Katie is a postdoctoral researcher in the Mater Intellectual Disability and Autism Service and will use the funding to deliver and evaluate an online module for medical students about autism.

Katie said the module has been co-designed with autistic people with their input helping to best understand and improve how their healthcare is delivered to them.

“Doctors currently have low autism knowledge because they receive little training about autism at medical school, which is primarily focussed on diagnostic criteria, and which often overlooks autistic people’s healthcare needs,” she said.

“We want to fill that knowledge gap through an online module that educates medical students about key health issues in autism, communication skills and tips for making healthcare more accessible for these patients.

 “We’ll be able to measure the success of our modules by assessing changes in autism knowledge and confidence among doctors in the future when they work with autistic patients.

“In the long term, we would like to see this module offered to all medical students Australia-wide, so our next generation of doctors are equipped to work with autistic people.”

“I’m grateful that Mater Research is so supportive of early career researchers like me, because this is a pivotal time in which to drive our own projects and develop independence. These seeding grants provide us with the resources to lead our own projects and to make us more competitive for major funding bodies like the NHMRC in the future.”

The other Mater Researcher who received an Early Career Researcher Seeding Grant in 2021 for biomedical research, is Dr Kavita Bisht, who is investigating new treatments for blood cancers and anaemia of inflammatory diseases.

Kavita’s ECR grant will allow her to continue her project that is testing whether blocking the effect of an inflammatory protein produced by patients with Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) will decrease the progression of such neoplasms and increase patient survival.

“Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) are cancers that start in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made, and that abnormal blood cell production can then lead to clogged blood vessels, blood clotting and stroke,” she said.

“Most people with MPN live with continuous headaches, itchy skin, blurred vision and have poor quality of life and MPNs can also progress into acute myeloid leukemia if left untreated.

“Bone marrow transplant is the only curable treatment, but it is not always possible to conduct transplants on MPN patients as most of them have weak immune system.

“My project will test whether blocking the effect of an inflammatory protein produced by MPN patients, will decrease the progression of MPNs and increase survival.”

She said because of misdiagnosis of MPN, it is underrepresented on the Australian Cancer Register and that needed to change.

“I want to improve the quality of life of Australians with MPN. Hopefully this ECR grant funding will help us find more clues on how to do that and maybe even help us find a way to keep Australians free from MPN in the future.”

Mater Research offers one ECR Seeding Grant each year for biomedical research and one for clinical research. The awards are designed to build capacity and provide research opportunities for early career researchers in the organisation to assist them to be competitive on a national and international level while also encouraging research excellence.