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Helen Clunas

ACRE Affilate PhD student - University of Wollongong

Helen Clunas is a PhD candidate at Molecular Horizons, University of Wollongong. After more than 20 years in the Australian Army, Helen decided to change careers and explore her interest mental health. She is particularly passionate about how different societies define mental illness, the philosophical ideas around consciousness and the search for biomarkers that will better explain mental illnesses and identify more accurate treatments.

After a Bachelor of Science - Chemistry (University of New South Wales), Helen studied neuroscience with a Masters of Brain and Mind Science at the Brain Research Centre (University of Sydney). Helen’s master’s thesis, with the Kassiou Group, examined novel allosteric modulators of the P2X7 receptor in a cellular model for potential use as antidepressants utilising both ELISA and Yo-Pro assays to determine levels of inflammation following drug treatment.

In 2019 Helen joined the NeuroHorizons Lab to begin her PhD under Dr Katrina Green and A/Prof Kelly Newell (UOW). Helen’s current project is exploring the potential for compounds found in the cannabis plant to function as rapid-acting and long-lasting antidepressants. This research involves animal experiments and post-mortem tissue analysis to identify the efficacy of these compounds to effect behavioural changes in a rodent model of depression and determine the mechanisms by which they work. The result of these investigations will be the possible identification of novel antidepressants that have less side effects and are faster acting than currently available treatments.