Steve's PhD journey
Dr Steve Foulkes is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. His PhD and subsequent postdoctoral research has focused on developing and implementing exercise interventions aimed at improving cardiovascular health for people undergoing treatment for cancer.
What was your PhD research project about?
The research I undertook during my PhD was part of a collaboration between the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin and the Sports Cardiology Department at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. This was a great opportunity to marry the expertise in clinical exercise physiology from Deakin with the Baker’s world-renowned reputation in cardiac imaging and cardiovascular physiology. Specifically, this allowed me to pursue my interest in the role of exercise testing and training for diagnosing and treating the various cardiovascular complications of cancer treatments. My PhD and subsequent postdoctoral research is looking at the benefits of exercise training during chemotherapy for breast cancer on fitness and heart function.
I was able to draw on the insights of a range of experts during my PhD. One of my supervisors was a sports cardiologist so I got some specialist training that I wouldn’t have gotten through a standard degree.
Dr Steve Foulkes
What motivated you to pursue research in your chosen area?
After completing my clinical training during my undergraduate degree, I realised that exercise, even though it might be beneficial, isn’t routinely offered during or after cancer treatment. Heart disease is actually one of the biggest killers of women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer as opposed to cancer itself. We’re testing whether exercise during and after cancer treatment can protect their heart and give them a long and healthy life afterwards. It’s really an area where we challenge the status quo of ‘rest is best'.
What future aspirations do you have for your research?
The ultimate goal would be for cancer patients to also be provided with a rehabilitation program that would help ensure that they can continue to exercise during, and after, cancer treatment. We are trying to draw on cardiac rehabilitation, which is standard for someone who would have a heart attack and make that also a standard of care for someone being treated for cancer.
What has been the best aspect of doing a PhD at Deakin?
Deakin has a diverse level of expertise in clinical exercise and strong collaborative links with hospitals and research institutes across Melbourne. I was able to draw on the insights of a range of experts during my PhD. For example, one of my supervisors was a sports cardiologist so I got some specialist training that I wouldn’t have normally gotten through a standard degree. I have been able to build this quite interesting skillset where I can have expertise spanning not just exercise but cardiology and cancer care as well.
Depending on the research question that you’re interested in, Deakin will give you the skills, relationships and collaborations that can help you address that question.
What are your future career ambitions?
My research during my PhD led to me securing my current role as a postdoctoral researcher at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute. After that, my aim is to do some international postdoctoral work as we have collaborative ties in Belgium and Canada. It would be good to learn some more skills in different muscle imaging techniques overseas. Long term, I’d like to return to Australia and set up a laboratory specialising in exercise and cancer care.