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FMHS psychiatrist attends Nobel event
Author: Jackie Pienaar-Brink
Published: 14/06/2018

​Dr Eileen Thomas (35),  a doctoral student in the Department of Psychiatry at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, has been chosen to attend the 68th Nobel Prizewinners' Event.

She is one of only six young South African scientists – all women – who have been honoured in this manner. The event will take place from the 24th to the 29th of June in Lindau, Germany.

Participants from 84 different countries will be given the opportunity to interact with 43 Nobel Prizewinners in Physiology and Medicine. Among them are last year's winners of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, who were honoured for their discovery of the molecular mechanisms that control the circadian rhythm.

Approximately 600 scientists under 35 years of age are chosen annually to attend this event. Thomas applied after she was nominated by the Academy of Science of South Africa.

“I see myself as a clinician-researcher and can attest to how experience in one field can strengthen one's hand in another one," says Thomas, who completed her medical studies at the University of Pretoria. “During my year of community service at the Worcester Hospital, I fell in love with the beautiful Cape, and applied to specialise at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Stellenbosch."

She graduated in 2015 and since then she has divided her time between clinical work (she has two psychiatric practices) and a volunteer women's health clinic at Tygerberg Hospital, where, together with two gynecology-colleagues, she focuses on chronic pelvic pain, as well as research in this regard. During her stint as a clinical assistant, the Department of Psychiatry offered her excellent opportunities to learn more about research, says Thomas, who is also a member of the SARChi Research unit in post-traumatic stress disorder under the leadership of Prof Soraya Seedat. 

“My research interests are directly aligned to my clinical interests. My PhD project investigates biomarkers which could identify post-traumatic stress at an early stage. Furthermore, I am also very interested in women's health, traumatology, chronic pain and panic disorders."

She is very grateful for the Nobel opportunity, especially as a female researcher from South Africa, says Thomas. “I look forward to the lectures, the discussions, and the lunch with previous Nobel Prize winners, and also to the opportunity of meeting other young researchers, exchanging ideas, and doing some networking."

Her other achievements include, among others, the Discovery Foundation Bursary last year and the SAMA study bursary this year for her PhD-studies.

She foresees that she will always divide her time between clinical care and research, and would like to start her own  "pink" laboratory where young female researchers can be supported and encouraged.

In September Thomas will marry her American fiancé, Andy Vuong, who she calls her biggest supporter.