From biotechnology to quality of life

Written by Yinyin Phyo, IMPACCT Trials Coordination Centre Research Assistant

As a Master of Philosophy in Medical Biotechnology student, my original focus was on lab-based science. Although I was exposed to the concepts of clinical trials and public or social health, these were not deeply explored but had piqued my interest, as I wanted to bridge the gap in my knowledge between science and health.

I was interested in directly connecting with health care professionals and patients to explore their experiences, which would not have been possible in a lab. When the opportunity came along to complete an honours project with the UTS Faculty of Health’s Improving Palliative, Aged and Chronic Care through Clinical Research and Translation (IMPACCT) research centre, I was really excited to be exposed to this different area of research. The research focused on a patient’s quality of life and symptom improvement or management, rather than jumping straight into searching for a cure or looking at samples under a microscope. 

For my honours project, I focused on investigating the different perspectives of health care professionals and patients in secondary constipation, resulting from underlying medical issues or medications. Although an extremely common problem, there is no standardised criteria to assess for constipation, and there is no universal definition of it as it is a highly subjective experience.

There is also a stigma around constipation as it can be a difficult thing to talk about both for patients and health care professionals. As a result, constipation is often poorly understood, underdiagnosed, and underestimated, leading to inadequate assessments or diagnosis by health care professionals and minimal treatment satisfaction from patients.

Due to COVID-19 disruptions to my data collection, I was required to complete an additional project. Therefore, my thesis comprised of two parts: a survey that focused on a palliative care population and their experiences of constipation, as well as a systematic review.

Each study found differing perspectives and experiences of what constipation was. There were inconsistencies in terminology, clinical assessment, and symptom considerations. I found that using strategies that base a clinician’s assessment on a patient’s subjective experience, considering treatment beyond laxatives and diet, and further training or education are essential for effective care in clinical practice and reducing any barriers to communication. 

My transition from medical biotechnology to focusing on quality of life has been a rewarding one so far. Overall, I achieved a High Distinction for my thesis, while the survey component is still ongoing until June 2022 to collect more patient data.

I would like to thank my supervisors, Professor Meera Agar, Dr Rayan Saleh Moussa, Professor Katy Clark and Dr Catherine Burke, as well as Linda Brown, PaCCSC/CST National Manager, and Paul Byrne, Statistician, who provided immense support throughout this project.

Find out more about study opportunities with IMPACCT

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