The Psychedelic Trials Group at the Centre for Affective Disorders is currently running randomised, controlled trials of psilocybin. These trials are led by Dr James Rucker and Professor Allan Young. We are looking for people over the age of 18 with current depression that has not responded to the usual antidepressant treatments. Psilocybin is a controlled drug and one of the ingredients of so-called ‘magic mushrooms’. Recent research has suggested that psilocybin may help in treating depression and we wish to investigate this further.
Find out more about the Psilocybin Trials
As many as 30-50% of patients with depression can be classed as treatment resistant, meaning that they have not fully responded to two or more antidepressants in their current episode of depression. Treatment resistant depression is associated with poorer outcomes for patients, yet this form of depression remains undertreated. One option for people with treatment resistant depression is to add another treatment on top of their existing antidepressant. Lithium and quetiapine are two such add-on therapies and are currently recommended in published treatment guidelines. Despite this, neither has been established as better than the other, and they have only been compared head to head in short term studies (over 6-8 weeks). The Lithium versus Quetiapine in Depression (LQD) study is intended to influence clinical guidelines by assessing which (if any) of the two treatments is more likely to improve symptoms of depression over one year.
Find out more about the LQD Study
Recent studies have suggested that probiotics (i.e. ‘good bacteria’) may have beneficial effects on mood, anxiety and stress. Small clinical trials in people with depression have shown that probiotics can improve depressive symptoms when taken in addition to antidepressants for as short as 8 weeks. However, it is not known how this effect occurs nor which probiotics are most beneficial. This study will aim to improve our understanding of the mechanisms underlying these effects by looking at how probiotics affect the gut, brain and the immune system in people with depression.
Find out more about the Promex Study
A programme of research on Art and Health funded by the Wellcome Trust, aiming at evaluating three main art interventions: singing for women with postnatal depression, dancing for people with Parkinson’s, and performance for people with stroke.
Find out more about SHAPER
A large programme of research on depression and inflammation, as part of a multicentre UK consortium funded by the Wellcome Trust. It includes a clinical trial with a new anti-inflammatory agent for treatment-resistant depression.
A new 2020 European project on the stress-related risk factors for the comorbidity between depression and medical disorders. Our research group will lead the cellular work on using laboratory models to study the effects of stress on the brain and the body, including the effects of anti-stress therapeutic strategies like fish oils, pro-biotics and antidepressants.
a project funded by NIHR Biomedical Research Centre on using inflammatory challenges to experimentally induce transient depressive symptoms of depression in healthy subjects, in order to develop a clinical model to understand brain changes in depression and how to improve these with novel antidepressants.
A longitudinal cohort study on mothers that were first assessed 10 years ago when pregnant, and of their offspring, in order to study the long term consequences of depression in pregnancy on the mothers and their children.
Survivors’ Rehabilitation Evaluation After Cancer (SURECAN)
Professor Trudie Chalder is co-chief investigator on a study funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under the prestigious Programme Grants for Applied Research funding stream and led by Queen Mary University of London. Some two million people in the UK are living with or beyond cancer; about a third report poor quality of life. Ending in 2023, this study is looking at developing and testing a novel psychological intervention based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT+), with the aim of determining whether ACT+ is effective, safe, culturally acceptable, and cost-effective in improving the well-being of those living with and beyond cancer. Work packages include a randomised controlled trial of ACT+ versus usual aftercare; qualitative studies; and evaluation of predictors, moderators and mediators.
The NIHR Maudsley BRC Clinical and Population Informatics research theme
The NIHR Maudsley BRC Clinical and Population Informatics research theme is responsible for the development of our Clinical Record Interactive Search (CRIS). CRIS allows pseudoanonymised analysis of routine electronic medical records, using expertise in data security, record linkage and natural language processing. It also links with internal and external datasets from a variety of sources to maximise the research potential of these data.
Theme Lead: Professor Robert Stewart
Find out more about this project
The eLIXIR Study
Professor Robert Stewart is a co-investigator on the eLIXIR study, in partnership with the Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine. eLIXIR is based at the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre and the principal investigator is Professor Lucilla Poston, in the Department of Women and Children’s Health.
eLIXIR aims to combine information from health records and blood samples from mothers and children from a large population in an area of South London. The study has been set up to find out more about how children’s development can be affected by a range of factors, with the long-term aim of reducing the risk of health problems for both mothers and children. The resulting data from this new and important resource will be suitable for sharing between UK and overseas academics.
Find out more about the eLIXIR Study
A £1.5m Medical Research Council (MRC) Mental Health Pathfinder Award was granted to King’s, under the direction of Professor Robert Stewart. King’s is one of nine leading UK universities to receive one of these multi-million pound grants to help researchers harness the power of data science for mental health research.
The IoPPN has built up key strengths and leadership in clinical informatics using the rich data contained within mental health electronic records, in psychosis outcome prediction, and in longitudinal studies of mental health in childhood and adolescence. Using the IoPPN’s extensive experience and resources in these areas, four projects will provide the necessary groundwork for a world-leading national mental health research platform.
Find out more about MRC Pathfinder
DETERMIND (DETERMinants of quality of life, care and costs, and consequences of INequalities in people with Dementia and their family carers)
Professor Robert Stewart is co-investigator on this on this multi-million pound study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Principal investigator Professor Sube Banerjee, of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, has brought together an experienced, nationwide, multidisciplinary team.
This large cohort study is looking at factors, following the diagnosis of dementia, that generate unequal access and experiences, leading to inequalities in care and inequities in outcome. DETERMIND will generate definitive data with the aim of driving activity to address these.
Determining the predictors and outcomes of people with dementia with Lewy bodies using the Clinical Record Interactive Search (CRIS) system to improve diagnosis and management (LEWY-CRIS)
Professor Robert Stewart is one of the co-investigators on this study, which is funded by the Alzheimer’s Society and led by Professor John O’Brien at the University of Cambridge.
Researchers are looking at anonymised electronic health records in the Clinical Record Interactive Search (CRIS) system to identify whether there are patterns or early factors that may help to improve early diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies. This has the potential for increasing rates of diagnosis, at earlier stages of the condition. Early diagnosis is vital for ensuring that people gain access to services and support, as well as for planning services.
Find out more about this project
We are always keen to hear from students who are interested in studying for a PhD with us. We routinely submit projects to the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience’s central PhD studentship call and are happy to talk to prospective applicants about these. We also often have funded studentships relating to specific projects.
In addition to funded studentships, we are also happy to hear from prospective students who would like to work with us to develop a new funding application or who may have access to funds of their own (for example via self-funding, funding from your employer or funding from some other source). At the moment, there are several projects we are interested in working up into full PhDs, which we have listed below. If any of these catch your interest, please do get in touch and we will be happy to discuss the next steps. You can either email the supervisor direct or contact our admissions tutor (Dominic Ffytche) for an informal chat.
Please do not feel constrained by this list, though. Staff in the department have a broad range of interests and all of our research groups are interested in hearing from potential PhD students who might like to develop a project. If you have your own idea for a project, or if you are interested in a particular topic that touches on what we do, please do get in touch with our admissions tutor (Dominic Ffytche).
If you are interested in pursuing a self-funded PhD with us, you should look at our information on how to apply. Please also make sure you are happy with the likely costs involved, both in terms of your tuition fees and also the costs of living in London.
Example projects for students with their own funding source
Developing an evidence-based patient information source to prevent ‘electrosensitivity’
‘Electrosensitivity’ is a controversial condition in which people report symptoms following exposure to the electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones, computers and electrical devices. Yet repeated double-blind experiments have produced no convincing evidence that electromagnetic fields can trigger these symptoms. Instead, psychological mechanisms including anxiety, expectations and stress may underlie the condition. In severe cases, electrosensitivity leads to a poor quality of life. In this project, we will develop an educational intervention which can be provided to people in the early stages of the condition.
Supervisor: Dr James Rubin
Can we prevent the ‘nocebo’ effect?
Symptoms which are misattributed to a hazardous exposure or medicine given out during an emergency often complicate emergency response efforts and affect the quality of life of those affected. Of particular concern to public health officials are the symptoms that are reported when mass prophylaxis is given to patients. In this project we will test a) whether small changes to the information given out to patients can reduce their likelihood of experiencing symptoms when given a medicine and b) whether these changes affect their ability to give proper informed consent for the treatment.
Supervisor: Dr James Rubin
Cortisol and trauma in parents of adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome and healthy controls
Our research has found that chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in adolescents is associated with low cortisol (Rimes et al in prep). Four cross-sectional studies (Van de Putte et al., 2006; Rangel et al., 2000; Chalder et al., 2003; Rangel et al., 2005), a prospective study (Rimes et al., 2007) and a retrospective study (Fisher & Chalder, 2003) have found an association between maternal distress and fatigue in their children. The aim of this study is to explore whether mothers of adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome are more likely to have experienced childhood maltreatment and are more likely to have low cortisol than healthy controls. We also want to explore whether these mothers have more distress and or fatigue than healthy controls and whether it correlates with cortisol levels.
Supervisor: Professor Trudie Chalder
Trajectories of health behaviours and common mental disorder across the life course
Common mental disorders (CMD) are strongly associated with physical morbidity and mortality. One possible mechanism is via health-related behaviours. The objectives of this study are to derive a composite measure of health behaviours; including diet, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and smoking and to examine trajectories of health behaviour and whether the effect of CMD on mortality is reduced when we adjust for these trajectories of health behaviour. This study will take a life-course approach, using the MRC National Survey of Health and Development, a nationally representative cohort study of all births that occurred in England, Wales and Scotland during 1-week in 1946.
Supervisor: Professor Matthew Hotopf
Depression, temporal ability and decision-making.
Depression is common and on a continuum of severity. The impact it can have on a person's abilities to decide for themselves in medical and social care remains poorly characterised. In settings such as end-of-life decision-making policy is controversial and better evidence on the impact of depression is needed. This project aims to develop a self-report measure of temporal abilities suitable for use in epidemiological research. It builds on previous work in the department of psychological medicine that models depression, temporal ability and decision-making autonomy.
Supervisor: Dr Gareth Owen
Diabetes and mental health
We have a large, dynamic and growing programme of research on the epidemiology, mechanism and consequences of depression in diabetes and developing psychological interventions to improve diabetes outcomes. We are interested in basic sciences, biological and social psychiatry. Some of the current themes that would make excellent PhD projects include:
- The association between depression and cortisol in type 2 diabetes
- Role of gut hormones in regulating mood
- Risk factors for cognitive impairment in type 2 diabetes
- Barriers to uptake of structured education in diabetes
- E-health psychological interventions to improving glycaemic control in diabetes
- Psychological barriers to insulin therapy and developing interventions to improve uptake.
Supervisor: Professor Khalida Ismail
Modelling depression in a dish: microglia as a potential target for the development of novel antidepressants
Supervisor: Professor Carmine Pariante
What is the effect of gentrification in a neighbourhood on mental health outcomes?
Supervisor: Dr Laura Goodwin