Manasi Murthy Mittinty, MD, PhD | Global Clinical Scholar Research Training
Manasi Murthy Mittinty, MD, PhD, a physician-scientist at the University of Sydney, aims to achieve mental health equity for all Australians by developing individualized patient care programs for people with chronic pain. Her research stretches across multiple disciplines and has the potential for impressive impact outside of Australia and across the world—it's a lofty goal, and she's been developing her skills and knowledge in order to accomplish it.
As a postdoctoral student, she received a prestigious Australian government-funded Endeavor post-doctoral fellowship; while completing part of the program at Stanford University, her colleague introduced her to the Harvard Medical School (HMS) Global Clinical Scholar Research Training (GCSRT) program as a potentially useful training to help her move forward with her goals. She took the chance after the COVID-19 pandemic began.
"It's so important for me to be able to be associated with a course that refines your thinking, gives you new tools and gives you strength and knowledge and skills to go out into the world and have the audacity to propose something like this on such a large scale—as well as giving me that global platform," she says. “I continually found myself at the intersection of critical theory, policies and population, and I often felt the need for deeper knowledge and a greater repertoire of skills.”
Mittinty is now a GCSRT student and is on schedule to graduate in early 2023. Already, she's seen the benefits: in September 2022, Mittinty was chosen as the winner of the 2022 National Emerging Leader in Health Award.
Pushing Forward on an Award-Winning Clinical Trial
A childhood fire accident left Mittinty with chronic pain, and the complexities and nuances of the experience left a lasting impression on her. In part because of her background, she got into medicine and pursued a focus in pain management.
"Everyone experiences pain very differently. And most of the time, it's not the pain that challenges them, but it is the associated distress, disability and perception from others in the world," she explains. "I wanted to take away the focus from telling patients how we could treat them and rather create programs that would not only help them overcome pain but would also empower them to take on all the mental health challenges that come with it."
She was already running an award-winning clinical trial and working to meet all its myriad requirements when she began GCSRT. There, she finally found a space where she could ask questions about the trial and get expert feedback. "I sometimes got really honest responses from the faculty, including, 'Look, this is hard, here's how you could consider the problem another way.' It was reassuring to understand you can't always plan ahead for a research study," she said.
Mittinty received seed grant funding and hopes to develop a larger patient-centric program that focuses on the holistic mental health of chronic pain patients as well as that of their family members. "I want to look at a person as an individual, rather than looking at them as a set of symptoms," she says.
Her capstone is in service of this larger goal, including support and funding. In this particular intervention, when selected arthritis patients would meet with clinicians for the first time, they'd discuss social supports, including interpersonal relationships, and the ways in which these aspects could impact their successful treatment in the long run. The trial would compare mental health outcomes with a control group over a two-year period.
Taking Advantage of GCSRT's Global Reach
Mittinty has done most of her coursework remotely, with occasional in-person training in Boston. Even in the online aspects of the work, she says she feels incredibly energized, particularly from the faculty's involvement: "They reach out to you. They make you excited even in an online space. Kudos to them for bringing that level of engagement to all of us and giving us a taste of how clinical trials would look and feel in the real world."
Her global cohort hails from all over the world—which, in her case, has been particularly helpful in understanding the differences in treatment, responses to challenges in local medical environments and cultural norms outside of her own country.
"Chronic pain is something that all of us, whether we like it or not, are going to experience or know someone who experiences it at some point in our life. Gathering that subjective information from specialists, and also listening to their expertise, has been really helpful to design my research," she says.
From becoming more comfortable with disagreements to learning how to put her work in simpler and more effective language, Mittinty says the program has helped her enhance her leadership profile—not to mention help her become a better educator, she says.
Looking Forward to Future Interventions
For the National Emerging Leader in Health Award, Mittinty was selected for her work in chronic pain and mental health. In addition to her ongoing research with arthritis patients, she also developed the first culturally sensitive chronic pain assessment and management tool for First Nations people in Australia—something she identified during her PhD but also something that didn't necessarily make headlines at the time. Winning the award "has made me realize that this research does matter," she explains.
Much of her work will take time, and the long-term results could only come to fruition years and decades from now. But Mittinty is dedicated to putting in the work, enabling others to join her, and adding ongoing support so that it stays in motion. GCSRT has helped her immensely with finding resources and continuing to push forward on these goals.
"At times, this can be a subject area that doesn't see heavy funding or as much time in the limelight," she says. "It's something that you do because you deeply believe in it. It's soul-enriching work. And my focus is to find people who want to collaborate and bring together those synergies."
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Written by Katherine J. Igoe