Neuroscience and Mental Health Projects

Applications for studentships for our 2019/20 intake have now closed. The below information refers to the 2019/20 recruitment round. 

Please find the details of the available projects for the Neuroscience and Mental Health theme outlined below. A full list of our available projects can be downloaded here.
Full project descriptions, including contact details for the lead supervisor, can be downloaded by clicking on the link in the project title.


Mechanisms of treatment seeking and recovery in cannabis use disorder

This project will target the global burden of cannabis use disorders in 3 interdisciplinary studies: 1) predicting treatment seeking with epidemiology and health record linkage 2) investigating cognitive mechanisms of treatment efficacy in a clinical trial 3) probing these mechanisms using neural and psychophysiological recording in the laboratory

Lead Supervisor: Dr Tom Freeman.
Institution: Bath.

In depth understanding of dementia-associated changes to neuronal signalling

Different categories of neurons host different types of ion channels whose functional role is not well understood and disease states can substantially alter electrical behaviour by modifying ion channel complements. The project will sequence the ion channels of hippocampal neurons through the data assimilation of membrane voltage oscillations.

Lead Supervisor: Professor Alain Nogaret.
Institution: Bath.

Smartphone Quantitation of Stress and Neuroendocrine Hormones

There is an urgent need in NMH for decentralised tests to measure levels of neuroendocrine hormones. This interdisciplinary project will deliver a disruptive, global biosensing methodology for fingerprinting hormones by combining new supramolecular chemistry with cheap optical microfluidics and wireless ‘smart chip’ technology.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Nuno Reis.
Institution: Bath.

KAP1-lncRNA chromatin regulatory complexes control adult neurogenesis

Adult neural stem cells produce neurons and have great potential in regenerative medicine to limit neuronal damage and functional loss. This project will systematically define novel KAP1-lncRNA chromatin regulatory complexes needed for neuron production that may be targeted to develop new treatments for neurodegenerative disorders.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Keith Vance.
Institution: Bath.

Encoding of decision making by dopamine neurons in health and Parkinson’s disease

We will use advanced in vivo recording techniques in behaving mice to determine how different types of dopamine neurons encode aspects of choice and action. We will further explore how these processes change in Parkinson’s and, using computational modelling, examine how this encoding shapes decision-making in health and disease.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Paul Dodson.
Institution: Bristol.

Fly, mouse and computational modelling of the effect of Alzheimer disease on clock neuron excitability

Alzheimer Disease (AD) involves amyloid Beta accumlation resulting in loss of memory, sleep and circadian rhythms. It is not known how this occurs slowing the development of effective AD drugs. We will address this issue using a mixed model approach to study the effect of AD on circadian rhythms and sleep using flies, mice and computer models.

Lead Supervisor: Dr James Hodge.
Institution: Bristol.

Affects of sleep and nutrition on dynamic hormonal systems

Mistimed sleep and meals are metabolic risk factors. Little is known about underlying tissue changes and the mechanisms determining risk. Microdialysis with LCMS allows tissue levels of hormones/metabolites to be collected during everyday activities. Aim: to test how changes in sleep time/duration and nutrition effect dynamic hormonal systems

Lead Supervisor: Professor Stafford Lightman.
Institution: Bristol.

Genetic profiling and targeting the modules of the central noradrenergic neuromodulation system

Noradrenaline, a neuromodulator, regulates Attention, Mood, Sensation & Movement and its dysfunction is implicated in Depression, Pain, Dementia & Parkinson’s. Recent work identifies subsets of brainstem noradrenergic neurons as modules mediating distinct functions. This project will genetically profile & validate these modules as novel targets.

Lead Supervisor: Professor Anthony Pickering.
Institution: Bristol.

Interactions between cognitive and motor functions in Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that affects many parts of the brain leading to cognitive and motor deficits. This project aims to investigate the interaction between cognitive and motor functions and the brain circuits that mediate them to provide novel targets for therapeutic symptomatic intervention.

Lead Supervisor: Professor Emma Robinson.
Institution: Bristol.

Development of ultrasonic probes to modulate synaptic activity of human stem cell-derived cortical neurons

Non-invasive neuronal stimulation is an emerging approach to modulate cell function, with various clinical applications. We will develop novel ultrasonic techniques to evoke electrochemical signalling in human stem cell-derived neurons. This will inform ultrasonic use in basic research and outline a framework for novel non-invasive therapeutics.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Daniel Whitcomb.
Institution: Bristol.

Optimizing adult mental health outcomes in children with neurodevelopmental problems: interplay of social and genetic factors

The PhD project will use the ALSPAC population birth cohort (0-25 years) to 1) test risk mechanisms explaining links between ADHD and adult mental health, and 2) identify protective factors that explain resilience. The project will provide training in advanced longitudinal methods and epidemiology.

Lead Supervisor: Professor Stephan Collishaw.
Institution: Cardiff.

The molecular basis of cognitive flexibility

Cognitive flexibility allows animals to navigate complex social environments. Deficits responding appropriately to social clues is a hallmark of many mental disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and OCD. This project examines transcriptomes in key brain regions at critical periods to determine the molecular bases of flexible behaviour.

Lead Supervisor: Professor Anthony Isles.
Institution: Cardiff.

Molecular pathways regulating stem cell divisions

Precise regulation of progenitor numbers during brain development is essential to determine the total amount of neurons that will be generated and the precise ratios of different neuronal subtypes. The molecular pathways involved in the regulation of proliferative vs neurogenic divisions will be investigated using a newly characterised mouse model.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Isabel Martinez Garay.
Institution: Cardiff.

Can early intervention with astrocytes delay the progression of Huntington’s disease?

Astrocyte dysfunction has been proposed as a contributing factor to the onset and progression of Huntington’s Disease. Our hypothesis is that transplanting astrocytes early in disease manifestation i.e. prior to striatal atrophy, could play a role in alleviating dysfunction of local cells and circuits, resulting in delayed onset of disease.

Lead Supervisor: Professor Anne Rosser.
Institution: Cardiff.

Investigating peroxisome dysregulation in Alzheimer’s disease

Peroxisomes are dynamic organelles which contribute to energy production in neurons. Evidence shows peroxisomes became dysregulated in Alzheimer’s disease (AD), but how these changes manifest and contribute to disease is not known. Novel in vivo Drosophila genetics and human cell culture techniques will be used to investigate this phenomenon.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Gaynor Ann Smith.
Institution: Cardiff.

Investigating the childhood neurodevelopmental origins of adult mental illness

Autism and ADHD are associated with elevated risk of later mental illnesses e.g. depression and psychosis. We do not know why this happens. One explanation is shared genetic risks. However, alternative explanations require testing. This PhD will use genetic and epidemiological methods to test a series of different hypotheses as to why.

Lead Supervisor: Professor Anita Thapar.
Institution: Cardiff.

School experiences in children at high genetic risk of mental health problems

A number of genomic disorders have been identified that are associated with high risk of childhood psychiatric disorder and learning disability. It remains unclear how these children experience their school environment. This will be studied and the links with cognitive function and psychiatric risk evaluated longitudinally.

Lead Supervisor: Professor Marianne van den Bree.
Institution: Cardiff.

Whole-person emotion perception in Autism Spectrum Disorder

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have difficulties in social communication, including perceiving emotions. Using a combination of virtual-reality tools, psychophysics and neuroimaging, this project will study whole-person representations of emotion in ASD, by characterising the processing and integration of signals from the face and body.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Elisabeth von dem Hagen.
Institution: Cardiff.

Neuron-microglia interactions during neuronal network oscillations: implications for dementia

Microglia mediate brain inflammation and play a key role in dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Recent evidence suggests that microglia are activated by neuronal network activity, which may be beneficial in AD. This project will use electrophysiology and imaging to explore the mechanisms underlying this important neuron-glia interaction.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Jonathan Brown.
Institution: Exeter.

Glial regulation of neural pathways controlling nutrient sensing

Dysfunctional control of blood glucose levels leads to diabetes. This project explores hindbrain circuitry controlling blood glucose, focusing on the contribution of astrocytes. You will advance understanding of nutrient sensing by astrocytes and how manipulation of these cells alters neuronal excitability to impact blood glucose control.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Kate Ellacott.
Institution: Exeter.

Learning to be ill: the information ecology of mental illness

The environmental causes of the onset and persistence of mental illnesses are not well understood. This project will develop a new approach that is founded in information ecology. We will develop computer models of learning and decision-making that capture the main features of depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and related harmful behaviour.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Andrew Higginson.
Institution: Exeter.

Developing Methods of Precision Medicine in the Psychological Treatment of Depression

You will develop new precision medicine statistical techniques and models to help clinicians prescribe different psychological treatments for depression. Models will predict clinical outcomes from patient and therapy characteristics. This translational project will develop your statistical, health services research and clinical trials expertise.

Lead Supervisor: Professor David Richards.
Institution: Exeter.

From bedside back to bench: understanding why renal nerve activity is so important for controlling blood pressure

Hypertension is strongly linked to increased sympathetic nervous system activity. This project will use state-of-the-art in vitro and in vivo genetic tract tracing, optogenetic, electrophysiology and radio-telemetry methods in rodents to study the central and peripheral neuronal circuits involved in long-term control of arterial blood pressure.

Lead Supervisor: Professor Angela Shore.
Institution: Exeter.

Pituitary plasticity induced by chronic stress

The stress response is mediated by a neuroendocrine system consisting of the brain, pituitary, and adrenal glands. Repeated activation of this system can lead to “chronic stress” with altered message from the brain to the pituitary. This project aims to understand how the pituitary adapts its response to repeated stress in order to reverse it.

Lead Supervisor: Dr Joel Tabak.
Institution: Exeter.


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