Dr Toby Wise, a King’s Prize fellow at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), has received the Wellcome Trust Career Development Award worth £2.1 million to characterise the circuitry underlying simulation and how it misbehaves to create worry.
Simulation is a process the brain utilises when an individual faces a challenging situation, enabling them to imagine what might happen in the future and act accordingly. Simulation helps an individual prepare for possible outcomes to solve a problem while avoiding danger. Worry is a negative emotion that may arise when simulation becomes uncontrollable.
Worry is the key symptom of Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which affects up to 6% of the UK population at any time. This award, which I'm delighted to receive, will allow us to understand how our ability to simulate the future goes wrong to create worry. This can lead to more targeted treatments that improve the lives of those experiencing anxiety.”– Dr Toby Wise
Dr Wise will investigate the neural processes underlying simulation and how these processes misbehave and result in worry. This project is the first to perform such an investigation as the technology to measure simulation has only recently become available. It will utilise computational modelling and sophisticated neuroimaging techniques to identify the specific neural circuitry involved when participants perform simulation when playing a decision-making game
He will also investigate which brain regions are involved and what factors can modulate simulation. He will do this by utilising transcranial ultrasound stimulation, a non-invasive technique to excite or inhibit neural activity in targeted brain regions by using ultrasound. He will also test commonly used medications to confirm their efficiency and to reveal which brain regions and neurotransmitters (molecules secreted by neurons for transmitting signals to other cells) are involved.
The latter part of the project will investigate the development of simulation patterns that lead to worry. He will investigate the origins of simulation – looking at genetic risks and early-life stress – and how real-world stress in adulthood generates worry. He also aims to reveal the link between simulation and clinically significant worry, as seen in Generalised Anxiety Disorder and many mental health disorders, to come up with strategies for more positive simulation.
The foundation of this work came from his computational work during the King’s Prize fellowship. The Wellcome Trust Career Development Award will fund Dr Wise’s project for eight years, launching his research group in the Department of Neuroimaging at the School of Neuroscience.