Dr Sharon Hollins

Dr Sharon Hollins

What are your research interests?

  1. How does the environment alter fetal brain development?
  2. How does the gut microbiome influence brain function?
  3. How does intestinal inflammation influence the development of anxiety?
  4. How can I stop chronic anxiety in teenagers leading to suicide or serious mental health issues in adulthood?
  5. How can we treat anxiety in children and teenagers without the use of harmful medications?

Why did you get intot research?

My interest in this research came about from witnessing first-hand the devastating impact that chronic anxiety has on teenagers, and how it can progress to serious mental illness in adulthood.  Anxiety disorders in teenagers are increasing rapidly every year and I would like to understand the molecular basis of why this is happening so that I can help develop ways of treating these disorders without the use of harmful medications.

What would be the ultimate goal for your research?

Many people have extremely adverse reactions to the standard anxiety medications, and in teenagers this can have a serious impact on all aspects of their lives, including an increased risk for suicide. I hope that my research will lead to a better understanding of what causes anxiety and will allow us to develop nutritional or probiotic alternatives to medications.  Being able to detect problems before it is too late and provide alternative treatments could help improve long-term outcomes in our most vulnerable population.

Biography

Dr Sharon Hollins completed her PhD in Molecular Neurobiology/Medical Biochemistry in 2017, and is an Early Career Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at the Callaghan campus of the University of Newcastle.  Dr Hollins has a multi-faceted research background, with qualifications and experience in biomedical sciences, molecular neurobiology, medical biochemistry, immunology and microbiology.

She has presented her work at both national and international conferences and continues to publish her findings.  She is an Early Career Researcher representative for the Centre of Brain and Mental Health Research and has received ~$30K in pilot grant funding through the Faculty of Science at the University of Newcastle.

Dr Hollins is interested in the gut-brain axis and her work focuses on molecular pathways and pathologies that underlie gut-brain interactions.  This involves the study of how our gut communicates to our brain, how our brain sends messages to our gut, and how alterations in this communication can lead to impaired mental health.  She hopes to unravel how the gut and the brain interact to modify the risk of childhood anxiety and later-life-onset psychopathology.  She is also interested in how the microbiome, the bacteria that live in our gut, can predispose to, or protect us from, psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, Autism Spectrum Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Future Focus

My research aim is to understand how the interactions between our microbiome in the gastrointestinal tract, our immune system and our brain, may predispose to chronic psychopathologies starting in childhood.  By understanding thee interactions we can use personalised treatment to prevent and treat mental health disorders.

Specialised / Technical Skills

  • Pre-clinical models
  • In vitro (cell culture) models
  • Genetics – microarray, qPCR, bioinformatics
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Western blot
  • ELISA
  • Radioimmunoassays
  • Histology

Affiliations

  • Australian Gastrointestinal Research Alliance (AGIRA)
  • Brain and Mental Health Research PRC
  • Digestive and Neurogastroenterology PRC
  • Member of the PsychoNeuroImmunology Research Society (PNIRS)
  • Member of Biological Psychiatry Australia (BPA)
  • Member of International Society of Neuroimmunology (ISNI)