Dr Andrea Gogos
The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health
DESCRIBE your research (i.e. what disease are you hoping to treat/cure?)
I am a behavioural neuroscientist and head of the Hormones in Psychiatry Laboratory, within the Division of Biological Psychiatry and Mental Health at the Florey Institute (Parkville, VIC, Australia).
The laboratory focuses on understanding the neural mechanisms underlying the action of sex steroid hormones in psychiatric disorders. Sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are increasingly being recognised as important factors contributing to the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders. There are marked sex differences in the risk, symptom severity and functional outcome of schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder; the strongest candidate to explain these differences is estrogen. The estrogen hypothesis of schizophrenia states that estrogen is protective against the disease.
The laboratory specialises in using neuropsychopharmacological approaches to examine sex steroid regulation of the brain and behaviour in disease. We use multi-disciplinary methods, combining molecular assays, preclinical and clinical research in order to gain a complete understanding of the neuropathology of psychiatric disorders.
Where are you hoping your research will take you?
As a young student, I learned that psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and depression are chronic, severely debilitating diseases. This inspired me to learn more, and 15 years later, I am still passionate about understanding the complex pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders. I want to identify their underlying molecular mechanisms in the hope that one day, my research will lead to novel targeted treatments and ultimately, a cure. New treatments are desperately needed as these diseases are currently poorly treated by drugs that do not effectively treat all symptoms nor all patients, and they have some serious side-effects. I want to understand the role of sex hormones, particularly estrogen, as sex differences are significant in psychiatric disorders. Ultimately, this knowledge may lead to the introduction of sex-specific treatment of these diseases. If estrogen protects against the development and severity of schizophrenia it has therapeutic potential, an exciting prospect given the urgent need to develop more effective treatments.
What do you need, as a female scientist, to keep doing your research?
All scientists, be they female or male, are currently facing an environment of uncertainty and insecurity. So firstly, there is a need for better job security and more funding! As a female scientist, two things come to mind: gender equality and motherhood. As a member of the Equality in Science Committee at the Florey, I have witnessed a number of policies being implemented that have significantly improved the work environment for me as a female researcher and mother. These include achieving gender balance through the ranks, and family-friendly policies regarding meeting times, parental leave, and flexible working hours. Acknowledgement of career disruption due to parental leave and child-caring responsibilities is an absolute necessity for ensuring track records are equally assessed. For me personally, I need support to keep me going. It’s exhausting to be in this highly competitive field and add to that trying to maintain some form of work-life integration. Thus support from the institute, support from my boss, and support from my family have all been essential for me to be able to be a scientist.
Do you have a role model who has inspired you? If so, tell us about them and how they have influenced your career.
My role model wears so many hats: she is a successful researcher, a neurologist, laboratory head, division head, a mother, and surprisingly, she’s young and a nice person. I’m inspired when I see her in action and think that just maybe, it is possible to juggle it all. The advice she gave to me was to allow yourself – without guilt – to work hard on what you love, but also allow yourself time to think and time to enjoy.