Dr Sophie Andrews has been recognised as one of Australia’s leading lights for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for her work leading the Healthy Brain Ageing Research Program at UniSC’s Thompson Institute.
Dr Andrew was one of 60 people selected for the ‘Superstars of STEM’ program, which aims to celebrate and promote female and non-binary leaders in their field across the country.
“When I was an early career researcher, I really looked up to the women that I could see around me in psychology and neuroscience,” Dr Andrews said.
“To be given that same chance now, to inspire other girls and non-binary people, is really exciting. We need a diverse workforce in neuroscience and STEM. I’m looking forward to sharing the great work we do here at UniSC’s Thompson Institute.”
Director of the Thompson Institute Professor Jim Lagopoulos said it’s a testament to Dr Andrews and the magnitude of her research.
“To be selected for this initiative is really a tremendous achievement and speaks volumes of Sophie and of course the cutting-edge research she is engaged in,” Professor Lagopoulos said.
Dr Andrews leads the Health Brain Ageing Research Program, which aims to better understand the impact of lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise on healthy brain ageing, and how modifying these factors can decrease the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia.
Working in hospitals as a clinical neuropsychologist, she saw firsthand the devastation dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions can wreak.
“Seeing patients and their families go through that and not having very much to offer them in terms of ways to alter the disease and improve quality of life… I felt quite helpless,” Dr Andrews said.
“That was one of my motivations. Given there’s no treatments for these diseases, or at least no way to actually halt the progress, I wanted to turn my sights to helping us better understand them and what types of interventions might be available.”
Lifestyle choices account for between 30 to 50 percent of our risk of developing dementia. The Healthy Brain Ageing Research Program aims to support participants to adopt strategies to reduce that risk, while monitoring their own individual risk profiles.
“We’re all going to age. We’re all going to be at risk of some of these diseases. This is about giving people the tools to age as well as they can,” Dr Andrews said.
Program participant Trish Couper says being equipped with the knowledge to affect her future outcomes has been empowering.
“The whole lot has been extraordinary. Understanding how to take responsibility for our bodies and learning about nutrition, mindfulness, exercise and sleeping has been amazing,” she said.
“We owe it to ourselves and to our bodies, to do the best we can for them.”