ECU psychologist awarded NCI grant to develop depression management tool for young cancer survivors

East Carolina University’s Dr. Karly Murphy, assistant professor of psychology in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, has received a three-year, $750,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The grant will support the development of a digital self-management tool for adolescent and young adult cancer survivors (AYAs) experiencing depression.

Dr. Karly Murphy

“Individuals diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 15 and 39 constitute a medically underserved group identified by the NCI. Unfortunately, this demographic faces disproportionately high rates of depression, which often goes undiagnosed and untreated,” said Murphy, whose initiative seeks to address this gap in care to help AYAs cope with depressive symptoms in a way that is tailored to their unique experience.

As the principal investigator, Murphy is leading a team of collaborators in ECU’s Division of Hematology/Oncology in the Brody School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine, and the Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Together, they are finalizing the content of the digital self-management tool based on extensive user-centered design work. The team plans to launch recruitment for a multisite, full factorial trial of the tool later this year.

“This efficient study design will help us to better understand what types of self-management tools are most likely to result in reductions in symptoms of depression among AYAs,” Murphy said. “The project’s innovative approach lies in its focus on leveraging digital technology to provide tailored support to AYAs struggling with depression.”

By incorporating insights from user-centered design and best practices for intervention optimization, Murphy’s team aims to develop an impactful tool that addresses the specific needs and preferences of this vulnerable population.

Following the study, Murphy and her team will conduct a randomized controlled trial to test the most promising options identified in the factorial trial. If successful, the digital self-management tool could become an integral part of care for AYA cancer survivors nationwide.

“I ultimately envision this tool as being a routine part of care for AYAs. If they report symptoms of depression to their health care team, they can be provided with this resource and begin to learn new skills right away while also pursuing other treatments (such as medication or therapy) if needed,” she said.

Murphy is a clinical health psychologist. Her prior research with AYA cancer survivors includes evaluating the feasibility of mindfulness training, therapeutic and psychosocial intervention trials to improve their quality of life as well as developing and validating measures of psychosocial constructs.


ECU News Services
Howard House, 1001 E. Fifth Street
Greenville, NC 27858
Phone: 252-328-6481