This summer, in collaboration with a professor specializing in prostate cancer patient care, we developed an innovative research method using eye tracking software, to help quantify the ef-fects of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) on the visual perception and cognition of prostate cancer patients when viewing different stimuli. Androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) suppresses hormonal levels such as testosterone and thus prevents the reoccurrence of cancer. Hetero-sexual men with healthy testosterone levels normally attend to aspects of the female form that signal fertility. In other words, men tend to fixate on morphological features that correlate re-spectively with a woman's ability to carry a fetus to term and nurture a child from birth to wean-ing. The side effects of ADT include feelings of loss of masculinity, reduced libido and depres-sion which can negatively affect romantic relationships. This in turn can reduce the quality of life for both the patient and the patient's partner. Men on ADT have reported that the side effects of treatment have caused complications in relationships and marriages.
Previous studies have not quantified the cognitive mechanisms behind these responses in ADT patients. We hope that through our study, we will be able to analyze and understand these mechanisms and to develop ways to help these men recognize and overcome the impact of these drugs on their intimate relationships.
Since I was fortunate enough to join this project near its initiation, I was able to attend various planning meetings and lend my input into the outline of the experiment. I also did literature re-views on relevant publications on the topic to create a knowledge base for the team. Since this was a clinically based research project, I helped with the application to the Research Ethics Board and Institutional Research Board as well as creating project protocols. I was also in charge of recruiting patients in three population groups. I attended meetings of various prostate cancer support groups under Prostate Cancer Foundation BC. These recruiting activities allowed me to interact with patients, researchers, and doctors in healthcare settings.
Our participants fit into three groups: 1) men with prostate cancer and being treated with ADT; 2) men with prostate cancer and not being treated with ADT; 3) men who have not been diagnosed with pros-tate cancer. The data was collected at the UBC Brain and Attention Research Laboratory. In the lab, the men viewed images of male and female runway models. A pair of images was viewed, one at a time, and consisted of one model that is fully clothed and another model that is minimally clothed (e.g., in a swimsuit). Each pair of images was viewed for ten seconds. As participants viewed the images, their eye movements and pupil dilation were recorded by eye tracking hardware. After viewing the images, participants completed five questionnaires that looked at their health, emotional wellbeing, sexual bother, and self reported sexual interest. I was responsible for guiding each participant through the entire experiment process, giving instructions, distributing the questionnaires, as well as answering any questions the participants had. At the end of the experiment, I also debriefed the participants on the purpose of our study and was responsible for sending any follow-up emails.
I was the recipient of the 2014 UBC Medicine Student Summer Research Project Grant for this project and will be continuing on a more extensive study throughout the year to hopefully devel-op intervention strategies for this demographic. The hope is that our research will inspire patient care programs that are more effective in dealing not only with physical side effects of prostate cancer treatments but also cater to the relational wellbeing of these men.