Dr Seetal Dodd.

“There are not many places in the world where you can combine a rural lifestyle with an academic research career.” Dr Seetal Dodd, Clinical Associate Professor at Deakin University, is one of our region’s talented scientists, who shares with us his life balance of research dedication and equestrian ventures.

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Moving from Belgium to Melbourne as a baby, Dr Dodd has called Lethbridge home for the past twenty years. When he wasn’t pursuing scientific discoveries, Dr Dodd was competing locally and interstate in show jumping with his horses. You might’ve even seen him competing at the Geelong Agricultural Show! Now he and his wife Angela own and run Lethbridge Equestrian Centre (https://www.facebook.com/lethbridgeequestriancentre/ ).

“Horses have been in my family for generations. My grandfather was a cavalry Major in India. As a child I didn’t have my own horse, but there were horses on a commune that we were part of (we were weekend hippies).”

When he’s not tending to his horses, Dr Dodd is working hard as part of the Institute for Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Translation (IMPACT) based at Barwon Health in Geelong.  Importantly, his areas of research aim to improve treatments for mental illness.

“I started my research career as a basic scientist working in a series of laboratories and completed my PhD at the University of Melbourne investigating the pharmacokinetics and metabolism of psychotropic drugs. From there, my research has focussed on treatments for mental illness including pharmacotherapy, but taking a broad approach including therapeutic guidelines, drug safety, clinical trials and illness progression. My passion is to see better health outcomes as a result of my work.”

Dr Dodd’s research into the nocebo effect is particularly interesting. You may have heard of the placebo effect where people experience positive outcomes even though the treatment given contains nothing that should improve symptoms. The nocebo effect is when patients experience side effects, or a worsening of symptoms, despite the medication not containing anything that should cause such adverse effects.

“Research into the nocebo effect is important for two reasons: Firstly, study participants randomised to placebo arms of clinical trials will often report adverse effects, which must either be coincidental or nocebo. Adverse effects of active drugs are often detected by comparing drug and placebo arms of clinical trials, so understanding the nocebo effect becomes important. Secondly, in mental health there are many patients who cannot tolerate or discontinue drug treatment due to adverse effects, and some who say “I can’t tolerate any drugs”. Understanding the nocebo effect may assist in recognising what is a genuine drug side effect from other factors such as anxiety about treatment. Most importantly, the placebo and nocebo effects are very powerful effects related to the therapeutic environment. Understanding these effects may assist in optimising the therapeutic environment to increase placebo effects and decrease nocebo effects which will result in better outcomes for patients.”

For someone that has won the Samuel Gershon Award from the International Society for Bipolar Disorder (2007), Dr Dodd is humble about the outcome of his work.

“Research that I have conducted has been incorporated into treatment guidelines that are used every day in clinical practice. This has resulted in improvements in efficacy and safety for mental health treatment. They are only very small, incremental advances, but that’s fine with me.”

Dr Dodd’s team are currently in the final stages of a clinical trial of N-acetylcysteine as an aid for smoking cessation. “N-acetylcysteine has been shown to reduce cravings in studies of addiction elsewhere, so it may potentially be useful for people who wish to quit smoking.”

While such trials may ultimately result in new treatments for those with addiction issues, Dr Dodd highlights the complexity of mental illnesses.

“I believe that ‘breakthroughs’ and new treatments are important, but significant future improvements in mental health will emerge from a multidisciplinary approach and through tailored, individualised treatment for people with mental illness.”

Dr Dodd is certainly an asset to the team at IMPACT, as well as our community, and we thank him for his care and attention to future treatment options for those suffering mental illness.

Story: Sarah Treacy. Photo: supplied