UWA Changemaker - Professor Sean Hood  MBBS (UWA) MSc FRANZCP

Head, School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences
Associate Dean, Community & Engagement, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences

Psychopharmacology of anxiety disorders 

My research into clinical anxiety disorders began in earnest during 1999 when I commenced academic psychiatric training under Professor David Nutt at the University of Bristol in England. Bristol, like UWA, is a member of the Worldwide Universities Network. Early this year I published an invited retrospective commentary describing the impact of over a decade of this clinical psychopharmacology research undertaken at Bristol initially and subsequently at UWA. 

In brief, we studied patients who had been suffering with debilitating clinical anxiety disorders, improving our understanding of how specific antidepressant-type medications can help. Most of these patients achieved marked clinical improvement, returning to full-time work and active social engagement. The majority of these people had never sought treatment as the UK NHS offered no services for them, and the patients often mistakenly believed that they were ‘flawed’ and thus didn’t seek medical care.  It is one of the joys of working in this field to see the profound improvement in the lives of patients whom we treat.

UWA and me

I have fond memories of my undergraduate years at UWA, including the MBBS program and the vibrant university social life. I met my wife Dr Danielle Heggart when we were both in second year at UWA. Danielle and I graduated in the UWA MBBS Class of 1993 and initially worked as junior doctors in Perth before moving to the UK in 1997 to pursue advanced training. In those days UWA was on the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) list of universities that enabled automatic entry to practice medicine in England, which made transition there rather easy. 

After returning to Australia in 2003 as a consultant psychiatrist, I considered clinical academic offers at the University of Melbourne and elsewhere before deciding to take up a new position at UWA as a Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry. I have been at UWA ever since, becoming Head of School of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, and most recently Associate Dean, Community and Engagement.

Making a difference

A canon of Australian healthcare these days seems to be translation of basic research into tangible clinical outcomes. Whilst this is important, encouraging basic and other forms of clinical research is also essential. My own research aims to vault over the stepwise iterations of Kuhnian “normal science” and paradigmatically advance. Robert Browning was speaking to the same point in his famous declaration “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?”. This is also the essence of UWA’s “Pursue Impossible” slogan, as it will be by creatively and intellectually challenging the axioms of psychiatry and routine healthcare that we will achieve lasting impact.

Together with Professor Florian Zepf, I am proposing to trial the dietary tryptophan depletion procedure as a predictor of response to certain antidepressants in adolescents who suffer from anxiety and who have not benefitted from psychological therapies. Young people are frequently excluded from medication studies but still can be severely impaired by anxiety - research such as this can help us better target provision of effective mental health care to this underserved group.

About Sean

Professor Sean Hood undertook his undergraduate medical degree at the University of Western Australia before completing formal postgraduate training in Psychiatry in Perth and Bristol. Subsequently, he returned to Perth setting up a Clinical Psychopharmacology laboratory as a clinical academic at UWA’s Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences School. Additionally, he worked for 5 years as a General Practice Liaison Psychiatrist in Bentley, Perth.

Professor Hood is past Chair of the Australian Pristiq Advisory Board and a member of the Australian Cymbalta, Vortioxetine and Lurasidone Advisory Boards. He is the Australian Board member for the European Masters in Affective Neuroscience degree, run jointly by the Universities of Florence and Maastricht. 
Sean is an academic at UWA, and a psychiatrist in public and private practice. His public practice includes Headship of the SCGH MHU Treatment Resistant Anxiety and Mood Disorder Unit (TRAMD).

Professor Hood maintains an active engagement in medical student education, running the 6th year psychiatry MBBS program at UWA. He chaired the Systems’ Committee of the new UWA MD Program prior to implementation in 2014.