Authors: Christopher Sharpley, Jade Parker
Depression, the leading cause of disability worldwide, is the focus of 2017 World Health Day. To honor the day, Oncology Central spoke with Christopher Sharpley from the University of New England (New South Wales, Australia) about his research into uncovering novel treatments for depression in prostate cancer patients and his hopes for the future of the field.
Could you tell us about your career to date?
I began my working life as a teacher, then a Psychologist and then undertook postgraduate training in research, moving to become a university academic in my early 30’s. After a career of nearly 30 years at Monash University (Melbourne, Australia) and Bond University (Queensland, Australia), I retired as Professor of Health Sciences in 2004. However, I soon became bored and returned to further study (BSc, MSc) in 2007 – 2011. I then recommenced my academic career as Professor of Neuroscience at the University of New England (New South Wales, Australia).
One of your projects focuses on how hormone therapy affects the mental well-being of prostate cancer patients. Could you tell us a bit more about the aims, findings and implications of this project?
Hormone therapy (HT) is used to good advantage in treating some types of prostate cancer but has been known to induce side effects including anxiety and depression. In a recent study published in Psycho-Oncology  we demonstrated that the origin of the elevated depression scores by patients on HT was really reliant on the effects that this treatment had upon their erectile function. That is, they were unable to achieve satisfactory erections and this made them unhappy due to loss of sexual pleasure. However, although that lifted their depression scores, it did not mean that these men were clinically depressed in the usual sense because they did not show similar increases in the other symptoms of depression. So, we argued on the basis of these findings that the depressive effects of HT might be best understood as being associated with “anhedonia” (loss of pleasure) in one specific aspect of their lives rather than global sadness or depression per se. It’s also important to note that these ‘depressive’ effects will probably decrease after the end of HT for most patients.
After 10 years as a school teacher, Chris trained as a clinical psychologist and taught psychological assessment and psychotherapy at Monash University and Bond University for 20 years. He was Professor of Clinical Psychology and Health Sciences and the Founding Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences & Medicine at Bond University. He then retrained as a Neuroscientist and is currently Professor of Neuroscience within the School of Science & Technology. His particular research interests are in the interface between the neurobiology and clinical manifestations of depression and clinical aspects of depression in Autism Spectrum Disorder.