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Postgraduate Research

Postgraduate research

Psychosis Studies MPhil/PhD

The Department of Psychosis Studies is home to over 50 doctoral researchers.The department offers prospective students supervision from academics with expertise in many areas of psychosis to pursue a PhD or MD(Res) degree and welcomes approaches from those interested in PhD studentships.  

Here is a list of current projects available to PhD students:

Predicting drug response in schizophrenia: are clinical & cognitive tests a cost-effective alternative to neuroimaging?

Despite the demonstrated efficacy of antipsychotic drugs in clinical trials, response to medication varies considerably from one individual to another, both in terms of symptom remission and side-effects. The aim of this PhD project is to examine how we can best predict response to a widely used antipsychotic medication (i.e. amisulpride) in a given patient with first episode schizophrenia. Different classes of predictors are compared including structural MRI, demographic, clinical and cognitive data. It is hypothesized that the joint evaluation of demographic, clinical and cognitive measures will allow accurate prediction of treatment response and will therefore provide a practical and cost-effective alternative to brain scans. 

Supervisor: Andrea Mechelli

The cognitive neuroscience of insight and awareness in psychiatric disorders

Insight or awareness of illness is frequently impaired in patients with major neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. It is now possible to rate insight reliably using a variety of standardised clinical scales. Research by our group has shown that in schizophrenia, insight is related to cognitive deficits and clinical outcomes. We have also shown correlations with localised grey matter deficits, using MRI. The challenge now is to derive testable cognitive models of insight and awareness since it is not possible to assess awareness of illness in healthy controls. Paradigms for assessing self appraisal have been developed by our group and others which may be combined with functional MRI. Furthermore, recent MRI work has shown in healthy volunteers that appraisal of cognitive performance may be dissociated from performance itself. This provides a new avenue for research in patients and controls wherein it will be possible to study the brain basis of awareness of cognitive performance as distinct from awareness of behaviour or personality (and including the presence of illness). This studentship will entail the development and application of a series of cognitive and neuroimaging studies which examine various facets of insight in normal psychology and psychopathology. The work will be of considerable interest to cognitive neuroscientists, psychologists and clinicians.

Supervisor: Anthony David

Cigarette smoking and schizophrenia

There is good evidence that cannabis consumption is associated with increased risk for schizophrenia.  But many cannabis smokers are also cigarette smokers.  Could tobacco smoking be the real culprit?  Or might both substances be associated with increased risk?  There are opportunities to study this question in large registers from Sweden.  The project would be supervised by Dr MacCabe in collaboration with colleagues in Sweden.

Supervisor: James MacCabe 

Cannabinoids and Psychosis

Our group is currently involved in various clinical and experimental research projects using a combination of pharmacological challenge, neuroimaging (fMRI, PET) and genetic approaches aimed at understanding the neurobiology of psychosis and translating that into diagnostic tests or new interventions. The core strategy that we employ involves understanding the biology central to a disease/ clinical problem using an approach and in a population that can then be relatively quickly translated to or applied in the clinical context in terms of developing treatments, diagnostic tests or devising other therapeutic interventions. We have particular expertise and interest in pharmacological challenge studies involving the administration of cannabinoids to help model aspects of psychosis and combine that with neuroimaging and electrophysiological techniques to understand the underlying biology. We have a track record of carrying out studies that elucidated for the first time the neural basis underlying the symptomatic and cognitive effects of cannabis in man as well as the genetic and neural mechanisms underlying variable sensitivity to its effects. More recently, we have been interested in translating the early findings of our research into developing newer treatments or predictive tests. In particular, we are interested in the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids and have recently been funded to investigate this in clinical population. Currently, we are also involved in extending our experimental evidence regarding genetic predictors of sensitivity to the effects of cannabis obtained in healthy people to patients with psychosis with the aim to identify those who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of ongoing cannabis use, such that personalized treatment approaches can then be developed for those that are most likely to benefit from it. Another stream of research that we are currently interested in involves understanding the neurochemical underpinnings of the symptomatic and neurocognitive effects of cannabinoids with a particular focus on brain glutamate levels using a combination of magnetic resonance spectroscopy and fMRI. Thus there are a number of potential PhD opportunities that an interested applicant may wish to consider.

Supervisor: Sagnik Bhattacharyya

Psychosocial adjustment in very preterm born adults

Children and adolescent who were born very preterm (VPT; < 33 weeks of gestation) often experience neurodevelopmental problems and psychosocial difficulties in adult life. The ‘preterm phenotype’ is further associated with problems in socialization. A possible explanation may be that children with poor cognitive development are challenged at school, become frustrated with not succeeding to adjust and perform as well as their peers, become withdrawn and socially excluded. Socialization difficulties in individuals who were born very preterm have been reported as early as the first year of life and in childhood. Furthermore, VPT adolescents have been described as being at increased risk of experiencing socialization difficulties and deficits in social competence.  

To date there have been very few studies on psychosocial functioning in preterm-born adults. Thus this study proposes to systematically assess psychosocial functioning in a large sample of VPT-born adults and controls. Social functioning constitutes a facet of quality of life, and poor social adjustment may negatively affect the well-being of VPT individuals. Therefore, the proposed study will investigate psychosocial functioning in relation to psychiatric outcome and structural and functional brain development.

Supervisor: Chiara Nosarti


Potential PhD students should also visit the Education Support Team pages and the online prospectus to find out more.

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