A medical degree is the next exciting career goal for Perron Institute PhD graduate Dr Megan Bakeberg.

Dr Bakeberg recently graduated with a PhD from The University of Western Australia. Inspired by working with patients during her time at the Perron Institute, she began her medical degree at The University of Notre Dame last year.

“Completing my PhD while starting a new course was difficult at times, but I’ve had wonderful support from the institutions I’m involved with, and from friends and family,” she said.

For her thesis, Dr Bakeberg investigated debilitating non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as cognitive decline, tiredness and depression.

“Results from evaluating multiple Parkinson’s cohorts indicated that patient biological gender was predictive of longitudinal cognitive decline. Secondly, blood levels of cholesterol, homocysteine (amino acid) and ceruloplasmin (protein) were associated with cognitive ability and impulsivity (a related psychiatric symptom).

“The TOMM40 ‘523’ genetic variant, which has a known link with Alzheimer’s disease, was associated with the age of Parkinson’s symptom onset and progression to dementia. These findings for my thesis help explain variability I’ve seen in the non-motor symptoms of people in our Parkinson’s cohort, and may assist in the identification of patients at risk of increased severity of clinical outcomes.

“They also highlight the importance of lifestyle and dietary factors in the progression of the disease, and the opportunities that lie in lifestyle and preventative interventions.”

Dr Bakeberg’s research was supported by a Perron Institute Kakulas Prestige Scholarship, a Richard Walter Gibbon Medical Research Scholarship, and Australian Government Research Training Program Fees Offset Scholarships at UWA.

During her PhD, she had six first-author research papers; one published in a Nature subsidiary journal NPJ Parkinson’s Disease, a first author review paper and a first author book chapter.

Dr Bakeberg acknowledges many people who have supported her on her PhD journey, firstly supervisors, Associate Professor Ryan Anderton and Professor Frank Mastaglia. As well as her colleagues that have become friends during the course of her PhD.

“I have grown immeasurably under their professional and personal tutelage,” she said.

“I also thank the people with Parkinson’s who have graciously given their precious time to me. My studies and thesis depended on their involvement.

“I started out as a fresh Honours student in Professor Bruno Meloni’s lab and I’m so grateful for the challenging yet incredibly rewarding experiences I’ve had in the past four years. I look forward to keeping research at the centre of my passions, and to being able to put all I’ve learned to good use in the future.”

Dr Bakeberg recently joined the Plastics and Human Health team at the Minderoo Foundation as a Research Analyst.

Congratulations, Dr Bakeberg!