What are your research interests?
- Using advanced statistical techniques to examine the complex interplay of factors that lead to challenges in treating complex diseases, including severe asthma.
- Investigating how our mental health affects our physical health, and vice versa.
Why did you get into research?
I started a research career because I wanted to discover things. I wanted to challenge myself by trying to solve problems that are important to health and wellbeing of individuals and their families. I arrived here by accident: I started my undergraduate degree wanting to treat individuals one-on-one as a psychologist, and ended it wanting to be a health researcher making discoveries that influence the health and wellbeing of everyone!
What would be the ultimate goal for your research?
I study the reasons why it might be challenging to treat complex diseases, in the hope that this knowledge will increase the effectiveness and efficiency with which we treat physical and mental health problems. This includes identifying biomarkers that predict poor disease outcomes; identifying factors associated with treatment success; and demonstrating that patients with the same diagnosis can have very different symptoms and outcomes. My endgame is that when we run a clinical trial of a new or repurposed intervention, or take scientific innovations into practice, we do so with confidence that it has the best chance of working effectively.
Dr Sarah Hiles is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Newcastle. Her speciality is using biostatistics to answer questions about complex chronic diseases. She started her research career focusing on mental illness, before deciding to explore the connections between mental health and chronic health issues such as severe asthma, working with Professor Vanessa McDonald. At the heart of her research is a desire to conduct studies that lay a solid evidence-base from which we can efficiently create effective and economical interventions. Her research demonstrates the places we should focus on to get "bang for buck" when we conduct clinical trials or implement scientific innovations into the clinic or public policy.
Sarah was awarded her PhD in 2014 at the University of Newcastle, under the supervision of Professor Amanda Baker and Professor John Attia. Her thesis explored the epidemiological evidence for the inflammatory hypothesis of depression. Sarah is a former EU Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow and an Australian Endeavour Research Fellow. She spent her postdoctoral fellowships working in a premier psychiatric epidemiology research group at VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Over the next year, I will be discovering which aspects of multicomponent interventions tailored to people with severe asthma lead to the greatest improvements in quality of life. In particular, I look forward to seeing the outcomes of our clinical trial examining whether a gentle exercise programme such as yoga can improve the health and wellbeing of people with severe asthma.
- Advanced quantitative data analysis
- Systematic review and meta-analysis
- Observational research
- Psychosomatic medicine – relationships between mental and physical health
Asthma is a common and often disabling chronic disease that makes breathing difficult. Approximately 3 million Australians have asthma – 10% of the population. Asthma causes significant lifetime disability, has a high disease burden, and caused 455 deaths in Australia in 2016. Estimated direct and indirect costs to the Australian Government and businesses are $24.7 billion due to health care costs, productivity loss, reduced quality of life and premature death (Deloitte Access Economics, “Hidden Costs of Asthma”, 2015). Much of this burden comes from people with severe asthma who do not have control of their asthma symptoms despite high-dose treatment. Severe asthma is the focus of my research.