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Young researcher recognised for contribution to science

Dr Rebecca Pearson

Dr Rebecca Pearson (centre) with fellow award winners (from left Dr Rimona Weil, University College London and Dr Konstantine Skourti-Stathaki, University of Edinburgh) at the 2015 L’Oréal UK & Ireland Fellowships For Women in Science awards

2 July 2015

Dr Rebecca Pearson, a research associate in epidemiology in the School of Social and Community Medicine, has been highly commended for her work on maternal mental health in the 2015 L’Oréal UK & Ireland Fellowships For Women in Science awards.

The awards are offered to outstanding female postdoctoral researchers by a partnership between L’Oréal UK & Ireland, the UK National Commission for UNESCO and the Irish National Commission for UNESCO, with the support of the Royal Society.

Dr Pearson, who is based in the Centre for Academic Mental Health, presented her latest research to a panel of judges at the final stage of the Fellowship awards at the Royal Society in London last month, and received a Highly Commended certificate, including £1,000 flexible research funding.

Dr Pearson’s work focuses on postnatal maternal depression, a well-known risk factor for psychological difficulties in children, which poses a substantial global economic and health burden. Using her Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Early Career Fellowship award, Dr Pearson’s work investigates the mechanisms underlying the risk of developmental difficulties in the children of mothers who are depressed during pregnancy and after birth, taking into account social policy and economic systems in both high- and low-income countries, and to translate this into preventative interventions.

Her review of this literature was published in the Lancet last year and reveals that the association between postnatal depression and disruption to children’s emotional, behavioural, cognitive and physical development may be stronger in more socially disadvantaged settings.

Since then, Dr Pearson has been further studying the ways in which mothers behave with their children, and how maternal depression affects the way that mothers respond to their offspring. As part of this research, she has been developing new ways to reliably code and measure mother and infant behaviour during play using new software and ‘wearable’ technology. These measures will be used in future studies to develop education programmes to help mothers better understand their babies, and to mitigate the effects of postnatal depression on children’s development.

Commenting on the L’Oréal commendation, Dr Pearson said: ‘I was delighted to have the opportunity to share my research more widely through the L’Oréal scheme and to be among such a diverse group of talented young female scientists, with psychiatry research being recognised alongside cancer biology and astrophysics. The award has opened new audiences for my work and I will use the funding to pilot new measures and visit collaborators.’

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