3 December 1998

Cell researcher to receive University of Queensland honorary doctorate

The researcher who discovered apoptosis or programmed cell death will receive an honorary doctorate at a University of Queensland graduation ceremony on December 4.

Faculty of Health Science students will receive their degrees in areas including medicine and dentistry at the 5pm ceremony in Mayne Hall.

* Emeritus Professor John Kerr, AO, (telephone 07 3262 2373) will receive an honorary Doctor of Science at the ceremony for his national and international contribution to science.

His landmark discovery on apoptosis, or programmed cell death, published in 1972, revolutionised the study of many processes in biology and disease.

Professor Kerr graduated in medicine from the University in 1957. From 1962 to 1964 as a PhD student in London, he first observed the characteristic morphology of a distinctive type of cell death. This was later termed apoptosis when the wide-ranging significance of the process in health and disease was recognised.

He returned to the University in 1965, and was head of the Pathology Department from 1974 to 1995, during which time he continued his study of apoptosis in a variety of circumstances, among them the death of tumour cells exposed to chemotherapy and immunological attack.

In recent years, molecular biologists have unravelled the processes controlling apoptosis and this is leading to new methods for treating diseases such as cancer and auto-immune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis.

World-wide interest in the process has grown very rapidly since 1990 and, according to a recent editorial in the journal Science, there have been 20,000 publications on apoptosis in the past five years.

Professor Emeritus Kerr will also be the guest speaker at the ceremony while Annetta Wan will deliver the valedictorian address.

Graduates of interest at the ceremony include the following:

o For Sophie Clarke, it's always been a case of horses with courses. For the past six years, she has successfully combined the rigors of studying medicine with the rigors of competitive equestrian riding. In 1995, she represented Australia as part of a five-member team at the InterPacific competition in Japan. Australia won the competition consisting of the three equestrian events of dressage, cross-country and show-jumping. Sophie competes on her 11-year-old, grey gelding Glenormiston Kiltulla but has put the sport on hold for the past year to concentrate on her medical studies. This decision paid off last year when she received a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 6.9 out of a maximum seven for her subjects. Her love of horses began more than 20 years ago growing up in Brookfield. Mother Susan, now based in Wivenhoe with Sophie's father Dr Barton Clarke, breeds Connemara ponies. Sophie, who rides her horse every weekend, said following graduation she would start riding competitively again. She would also take up a position as an intern at Royal Brisbane Hospital next year. Her mother, who graduated bachelor of arts majoring in psychology from the University in 1965, and father (MBBS 1962 and masters in urogynaecology 1995), brother Dr Andrew Clarke (MBBS 1993 and now a surgical registrar at Prince Charles Hospital) will be there to see Sophie graduate. Her sister Sarah (bachelor of arts majoring in journalism 1992) can't make the ceremony as she takes up a job as ABC political reporter in Canberra in December. Sophie can be contacted on telephone 07 5426 7011 or mobile 0419 747 721.

o Cathy Davis' (nee McDougall) three children, Emily, 6, Sarah, 5, and Ben, 11 months, have only ever known a mother studying to become a doctor. Now that Cathy's graduation day has arrived, Emily and Sarah have started to say that "Mummy is going to be a real doctor" jokingly referring to the fact that Dad, Dr Craig Davis, has a doctorate in biochemistry rather than medicine. Combining study with caring for three children requires efficiency, organisation and a highly supportive husband and family, according to Cathy. Her mother Dr Judith Williamson (MBBS 1964) and father Dr Ian McDougall (MBBS 1964) are both University medicine graduates while her stepfather graduated with a degree in dentistry from the University. "My kids are all in bed by 7.30pm allowing me to do most of my exam preparation then," Cathy said. She said she had done most of her study throughout her degree during the week because she liked to devote weekends to her husband and children. After completing a first-class honours bachelor of science degree at Griffith University, she said she had started the MBBS with a view to a career in medical research. However, her enjoyment of the patient contact aspect of the course had swayed her towards general practice. Cathy will take up an internship at the Royal Brisbane Hospital next year. She can be contacted on telephone 07 3357 5174 or mobile 0411 204 554.

o Another graduate who also knows the juggling act needed to study for an MBBS while managing a household of three children and husband is Michelle Psaltis (telephone 07 3285 5444). In addition, she worked part-time as a laboratory technician at Queensland Medical Laboratories (QML) during her degree. She said her husband, Jim, and three children Matthew, 16, Steven, 13, and Amy, 10, had been very supportive during the last seven years (she completed a year of a bachelor of science degree at the University before starting medicine). "My eldest is especially supportive now that he is studying for exams at a senior level," she said. "I think everyone is relieved my studies are coming to an end." Michelle, who takes up an internship at Caboolture Hospital next year, said the secret to combining so many activities was prioritising what was most important at a given time. She said once her children had grown up, she would like to work as a general practitioner in country Queensland.

o Richard Thompson and his wife Danielle (nee Sikes) (telephone 07 3265 4187, 07 3391 4981 or 07 3870 1869) can trace their romance back to the earliest days of their MBBS. They met on Orientation Day in first year, started going out in their second year and married in their final year. The couple is also known for the 1975 Toyota Corona Mark II they have lovingly restored over the years. In fact, Richard jokingly says it was Danielle's enthusiasm for car restoration which convinced him to propose marriage. The couple have changed the car's engine and gearbox twice, converted the gearbox from automatic to manual, stripped the car back to bare metal and resprayed it bright metallic green. The car, dubbed the "Green Machine", was left to Richard by his grandmother Jackie Thompson who wanted him to have transport while he studied towards his medical degree. It is practically part of the family with Richard insisting he will never sell it and it will come in handy next year when both start work as interns at the Redcliffe Hospital.

o Husband and wife team Drs Kamol and Praneed Sogwathana both graduate at ceremonies on December 7 and December 4 respectively. Prawn aquaculture in Songkla Province, Thailand, and its effects on the environment was the subject of Dr Kamol Songwathana's thesis through the Geographical Sciences and Planning Department while Dr Praneed Songwathana examined domiciliary and community-based care for AIDS patients in southern Thailand for her doctorate with the University's Tropical Health Program.

Both work at the Prince of Songkla University - Dr Kamol Songwathana is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Management Sciences and Dr Praneed Songwathana a lecturer in the Faculty of Nursing. The couple's two daughters (Joey, aged 8, and Janny, aged 4) will be present to watch their parents receive their degrees, along with Dr Kamol Songwathana's brother Visuth and his wife Sukanya.

Dr Kamol Songwathana's study surveyed community members including small-scale fishers, paddy farmers, prawn farmers, government officials and media coverage to assess environmental planning at the provincial level. The research found that there were significant impacts from this industry, namely wastewater problems, mud discharge and pipelines obstructing beaches. There were impacts on paddy farmers from saline waste water affecting paddy fields and to the small-scale fishermen from pipelines obstructing their boats. The positive impacts of prawn farming were employment and income to the districts and the national economy. A central wastewater treatment system built by the Department of Fisheries was the solution to the problems. Strong enforcement of the available laws and regulations for this industry was also needed, the thesis concluded.

Dr Praseed Songwathana's study on the care and treatment of AIDS patients was carried out in the Hat Yai district, Songkhla Province in southern Thailand. She found southern Thai people attached great social stigma to AIDS, associating it with dirt, danger and death and, particularly in rural areas, did not differentiate it from HIV. Because of this stigma and fear of rejection, patients often delayed treatment until visible symptoms appeared. They strongly preferred the traditional Thai way of dying while being cared for at home, which put the onus on spouses and parents, particularly mothers, as primary caregivers. There was expected to be an increase in people with AIDS dying at home, and Dr Songwathana found an urgent need existed to show concern on the impact of this on carers by strengthening the traditional support systems in Thai culture. However, caring for AIDS patients would not be effective without a greater understanding of AIDS-related beliefs and stigma which varied and affected care, and which influenced a large support of community members. Support was particularly needed among women afflicted and affected with AIDS, elder parents, the poor, and rural people. Women were more likely than men to attribute HIV/AIDS to karma, and then accept their responsibility and to fulfil their role and obligation with the hope of happiness in future life. However, Dr Songwathana found, lack of opportunity and accessibility to services and information, lack of financial resources and medical aid, had led to considerable suffering by both patients and caregivers. She suggested health education, training and continued support to people and carers who were affected by HIV/AIDS in local settings should be extended beyond biomedical concepts of illness and care, and beyond clinical care settings.
Dr Kamol Songwathana can be contacted on telephone +66-74-212030-49 Ext. 2715, facsimile + 66-74-212818 or email skamol@ratree.psu.ac.th

o Twelve people will graduate with the bachelor of applied health science (indigenous primary health care) and two with honours in the degree at today's ceremony. The program began in 1993 with a focus on health in indigenous communities. The two honours theses focused on alcohol and pregnancy in an Aboriginal community and diabetes in young women in an Aboriginal community.
For more information, contact Graduations Officer Karen Welsh (telephone 07 3365 2898).