Karra Harrington

The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health


Describe your research (i.e what disease are you hoping to treat/cure?)

My research is focused on understanding the effects of normal ageing processes on the cognitive function of older adults who are physically and mentally healthy. Through the use of modern neuroimaging technology, like Positron Emission Tomography (PET), we have been able to rule out the effects of previously undetected disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease, on estimates of age related cognitive changes. We are finding that in the absence of these kind of diseases, increasing age is associated with little or no deterioration in many cognitive abilities. We do find some evidence for age related decline for those aspects of thinking that require the integration of multiple and simultaneous streams of information. However, while the speed with which this type of thinking is slowed, the accuracy of decisions does not deteriorate. Taken together, our results suggest that previous studies may have over-estimated age related cognitive decline, and that memory loss and decline in other aspects of thinking is not a part of normal ageing.

Where are you hoping your research will take you?

I’m hoping that the outcomes of this research will be able to improve early detection and treatment of dementia, as well as to support older adults to age well and cope with any cognitive changes they may experience. As a psychologist, I would love to work towards translating this research in to clinical programs for older adults, especially to support older adults who are experiencing, or are concerned about, changes in their cognitive abilities. Long term, I hope to continue to extend this research through a Post-doctoral fellowship, and eventually to develop an independent lab that focuses on translating research into innovative multidisciplinary interventions to enhance the quality of life for older adults.

What do you need, as a female scientist, to keep doing your research?

I think that having strong mentors has been important factor in my success as a female scientist so far, and can see that will probably continue to be important to me throughout my research career. I don’t think that is specific to being a female or a scientist, but is probably helpful more generally. I have had the opportunity to participate in formal mentoring programs, as well as to develop a peer mentorship network, during my PhD. Both have given me the chance to see my research in a different context and to identify new possibilities for development and growth, which I feel is very valuable in my progress towards becoming an independent researcher and successful scientist.

Do you have a role model who has inspired you? If so, tell us about them and how they have influenced your career.

I have been very lucky to have had several inspiring people to influence me during my career and so don’t have one specific role model. Each of these people have inspired me in different ways, but I think that a key theme has been around encouraging me to be bold and to take on new challenges that I hadn’t considered previously. I am continuing to work to develop a network of people, both within my field and more broadly, who I am inspired by and who I can learn from as I progress throughout my career. As a clinical researcher this doesn’t just include other scientists, but also the people who participate in and support our research projects.

Find out more about Karra:

Read more about Karra here and here.