An Illawarra neuroscientist researching how "stress gets under the skin" and impacts on mental illness has this week received a prestigious award.
Dr Natalie Matosin analyses the molecular makeup of blood or saliva from those living with mental illness - or the brains of those who have died - to see what part stress and trauma plays.
Her early career achievements in this area have this week been recognised with a 2019 Tall Poppy Science Award. The Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute researcher said she was honoured by the award, presented in Sydney on Wednesday.
"Stress affects every cell in our bodies. If you're exposed to an extreme stress, or accumulated stress, you can develop all kinds of illness in the body - and mental illness is no exception," Dr Matosin explained.
"I'm working to understand the biology that happens when we're stress exposed and how that can manifest into a mental illness. So far my research has uncovered a number of genes and proteins which are dysregulated in the brains of people with mental illness.
"Ultimately the aim of the research is to be able to identify what goes wrong in the brain, so we can develop new treatments and improve the quality of life for people living with mental illness."
In Dr Matosin's lab at the University of Wollongong based institute, there's two strains of research underway.
"We use post mortem brain samples of people who used to live with mental illness to understand what is different in their brains that might have contributed to their condition," she said.
"The other research strain we're looking at is traumatised populations, and we're currently recruiting Illawarra community members who arrived in the area with refugee status.
"We want to look at the long-term effect of significant trauma exposure in our efforts to try and understand the molecular signature of stress."
Another interesting area of Dr Matosin's research is looking at how stress can transfer from parent to child - to help identify those families where early intervention may be beneficial.
"There's evidence that suggests that stress can be transmitted biologically across generations," she said.
"We're aiming to understand these trauma effects and how they might be biologically passed down, and affect future generations."
The Tall Poppy Science Awards, an initiative of the Australian Institute of Policy and Science, acknowledge excellence in research and commitment to communicating science to a broad audience.
Awards are held in each state across for researchers in the areas of science, engineering and mathematics. Eleven researchers were celebrated at the Sydney ceremony.
Illawarra residents who arrived with refugee status keen to join Dr Matosin's project can contact researchers on 4221 5150.