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Understanding stress leads to Forbes 30 under 30 list

Professor Natalie Matosin

University of New South Wales

2015 | $389,114

One in five Australians aged 16 to 85 will experience a mental disorder each year. Almost half experience mental disorder in their lifetime.1

Dr Natalie Matosin’s inclusion in the Forbes 30 under 30 Europe list is a prestigious start to her career as she researches the molecular complexities of psychiatric disorders.

The 28-year-old neuroscientist was included in the science and healthcare category of the Forbes list and is the only Australian named in any of the 10 categories. Dr Matosin’s career dreams are fast becoming reality as she completes a postdoctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany.

‘I still have no words. I’m honoured and proud to be included in the list alongside so many inspiring and interesting young leaders,’ she said.

Dr Matosin is investigating one of the major health burdens we are facing—stress-induced psychiatric illnesses.

She is looking at how environmental factors—such as trauma and stress—are affecting the way genes are expressed in the brain to trigger mental health conditions including schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.

‘It’s widely accepted that not only genetics, but also environmental factors, predispose individuals to psychiatric disorders,’ she said.

‘My research here [in Munich] is looking at epigenetic markers, which are chemical modifications to genes caused by environmental exposures—like trauma and stress—and understanding how these markers impact the way genes are expressed.

‘Part of my project is focusing specifically on one “stress” gene – it’s called FKBP5. It has some of the strongest evidence linking it to severe psychiatric conditions in people exposed to childhood trauma,’ she explained. ‘It could provide a way to better treat psychiatric disorders.’

Making the Forbes list isn’t the only accolade that Dr Matosin has collected. She is also the 2015 recipient of NHMRC’s prestigious CJ Martin Early Career Fellowship.

The purpose of this Fellowship is to provide full-time training in basic research within the biomedical sciences, both overseas and in Australia. It’s only offered to those of outstanding ability who aspire to make biomedical research a significant component of their career.

‘Getting the CJ Martin and coming overseas has been pivotal. This was the point where things changed,’ she said.

‘This fellowship has given me a unique opportunity. I’m being trained in one of the best institutes in the world so that I can conduct better health and medical research in Australia.’

Dr Matosin’s research specifically characterizes the FKBP5 gene in post-mortem brains from individuals with psychiatric disorders. This gene is overexpressed in those that suffer from mental illness.

‘FKBP5 is important for brain development and the way our bodies function,’ she said.

‘We think that people carrying an FKBP5 genetic risk variant have a unique molecular signature which can be used to group them together for treatment purposes.’

Not only is Dr Matosin’s research leading to potential new individualised treatment strategies, but the experience she is gaining as a young female scientist is a step toward gender equality in the industry.

‘Many of my colleagues and mentors are incredibly talented, strong, well-rounded women, many are mothers, with brilliant careers who are at the same time balancing families,’ she said.

‘It is important to know that things are changing. There is an established place for women in science and science needs women. We think differently—we bring something different to the table—it’s also starting to change at higher levels.

‘Being a younger person in science can be difficult. However I use my blog and twitter account to support other early career researchers—I hope that this increases recognition of what young people have to offer,’ she concluded.

1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008) 4326.0 - National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007, ABS issued 23/10/2008 available at: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4326.0Main%20Features32007