Psychology and Neuroscience
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prevalent psychiatric condition, significantly impacting the lives of millions of people globally. Sadly, symptoms often persist despite treatment. A better understanding of the brain abnormalities involved in PTSD is crucial to improving therapy development. Dr Israel Liberzon and his colleagues at the Texas A&M Health Sciences Centre have been working to uncover the dysfunctional neural networks that contribute to PTSD symptoms to inform the development of more effective interventions.
Neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) are a complex group of diseases that profoundly impact the human population, emerging during brain development but often affecting individuals throughout their lives. Human models of NDDs are needed, as many aspects of both the human genome sequence and brain development are human-specific and not recapitulated in animal models. Dr Kristen Kroll, in the Department of Developmental Biology at Washington University School of Medicine, has spent her career modelling neural development and identifying how its disruption can contribute to NDDs.
Decades of research indicate that mental health conditions and psychiatric disorders have a strong genetic basis. Expanding our understanding of mental health by encompassing a more systemic approach may help us improve both diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Chunyu Liu and his team from SUNY Upstate Medical University are using big data to discover the genetic and molecular changes in the brain that occur with different psychiatric disorders. His studies are helping us understand the diversity of human behaviour and develop new methods to treat mental health conditions.
Attention disorders range from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to multitasking difficulties due to aging. Regardless of the cause, such difficulties can have a negative impact on peoples’ lives. Dr Adam Gazzaley from the University of California San Francisco has carried out extensive research exploring how customized technology can be utilized to strengthen attention capabilities in individuals across the lifespan. His work has driven him to develop innovative technology companies and software as well as educate us on the benefits of experimental medicine.
Professor Mary Rezk-Hanna – Hookah (i.e., Waterpipe) Smoking: Understanding User Perceptions and Health Risks
Hookah smoking is the least regulated tobacco form. It is rapidly gaining in popularity to the extent that we are now facing a contemporary epidemic of tobacco abuse. Of particular concern is the level of usage among youth and young adults. Professor Mary Rezk-Hanna from the University of California, Los Angeles works with a group of scientists who aim to drive policy regulation of tobacco and alternative tobacco products, including hookah smoking, by investigating their health effects on the cardiovascular system.
Neurodevelopmental disorders range from those on the relatively common autism spectrum to much rarer disorders such as KDM5C-disorder and Weidemann-Steiner Syndrome. Exciting advancements in human genetics have shown that histones – the proteins our DNA wraps around – play a vital role in healthy brain development. Dr Shigeki Iwase from the University of Michigan studies how mutations in the enzymes that regulate histone structure and function can cause cognitive disorders. His work has led to important new discoveries, including how counterpart enzymes can be utilised for therapies.
Exposure to childhood trauma increases the risk of developing mental health issues in adulthood. However, the processes through which this occurs are currently unknown. Using magnetic resonance imaging, laboratory-based measurements of fear, and the assessment of clinical symptomatology, Dr Tanja Jovanovic from Wayne State University is investigating the effect that trauma has on brain development. She hopes her findings will help identify those children at risk of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder so that preventative measures can be put in place to ensure brighter futures for children in their adulthood years.
Dr Jessica Galgano – Exploring the Neural Mechanisms of Speech and Language to Inform Clinical Practice
The neural mechanisms behind speech and voice production are intricate but not yet fully characterised. For speech and vocal disordered populations, understanding the central mechanisms behind speech and sound production is essential to improve treatment options and rehabilitation techniques. Taking a scientist-practitioner approach, Dr Jessica Galgano, of New York University Grossman School of Medicine and founder of Open Lines Speech and Communication, is researching the underpinnings of speech and the clinical efficacy of current treatments for voice, speech, and language disorders.
Founded in 1992, Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading dementia research charity. Their work is dedicated to furthering our understanding of the causes, diagnosis, prevention, treatment and cure of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Characterised by declines in memory and other cognitive functions such as thinking and reasoning, these progressively worsening neurodegenerative and ultimately fatal diseases sadly remain without a cure. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Ian Wilson, Deputy Chief Executive, to hear about the vital work conducted by Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Professor Tara Perrot and her team at Dalhousie University, Canada, are working to better understand how early development – including the experiences of parents before their offspring are even born – may influence the stress reactions and resilience of their offspring later in life. This research involves not only looking at the brain and hormones but also the gut, and holds important implications for understanding human stress reactivity in the current day.
Severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) is associated with high rates of disability and even mortality. Understanding the relationship between patient outcomes and the treatment received, as well as other physiological factors such as inflammation, can improve how we approach TBI. Dr Jack Jallo and his team from the Department of Neurological Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University are researching the factors that influence TBI recovery to help design better care management protocols and optimise patient recovery.
Dr Charles Vite – Naturally Occurring Diseases in Dogs and Cats Help to Develop Treatments for Inherited Neurological Disorders
Many inherited neurological diseases are rare but can have severe outcomes, frequently resulting in disability and even death for children. New treatment options are essential to prevent suffering and decrease mortality, but to find such treatments, these diseases need to be more closely studied. Dr Charles Vite and his team at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, are committed to achieving these goals. By utilising animal models and unique markers for inherited neurological disease, they have already delivered promising results supporting the development of new treatment options.
Epilepsy is one of the most common causes of disability worldwide, but for many patients, treatment fails to be effective. Dr Victoria Morgan and her team from the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are using functional connectivity mapping to find out why some patients respond better to treatment and what alternative ways there may be to tackle this debilitating disorder.
Medical conditions that affect the brain can have severe impacts on people’s lives. Many of these conditions can be difficult to treat, including epilepsy which affects the brain to cause seizures and the common form of dementia known as Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Arun Swaminathan at the University of Nebraska Medical Center specialises in the treatment of epilepsy. He also collaborates with fellow researchers to explore treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease.
Brain tumours and other central nervous system diseases can be exceptionally difficult to treat. This is often due to the blood-brain barrier which can pose a significant obstacle when trying to get drugs to their intended site of action. Dr Sean Lawler and his team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School are aiming to bridge the gap between laboratory research and clinical treatment in their quest to find new ways to effectively deliver therapies to the brain and treat challenging diseases, especially the lethal brain tumour glioblastoma.
Huntington disease (HD) is an inherited and progressive neurological disorder which is currently fatal. Dr James E. Goldman and Dr Osama Al-Dalahmah, both at Columbia University, USA, are utilising new techniques in molecular biology to better understand the brain pathology associated with HD. Their vision is to develop therapeutics that can slow the progression of the disease, and ultimately, treat and even prevent it.
Ruptured and dissected aneurysms are medical emergencies that can have fatal consequences. There are two main surgical procedures to repair a ruptured aneurysm: open surgery and endovascular aneurysm repair. Unfortunately, both methods present a risk of developing spinal cord injury and paralysis. In addition, patients who develop paralysis after surgery have a significantly lower survival rate compared to non-paralysed patients. Dr. Hamdy Awad at The Ohio State University has spent most of his academic career focusing on the development of preclinical small and large animal models to understand the mechanisms of ischaemic spinal cord injury and discovery of novel therapeutics to prevent paralysis after aortic aneurysm surgery.
Neuroscience Ireland (NI) was established in 2005 as Ireland’s National Neuroscience Society, and is a registered charity in the Republic of Ireland. NI has a membership in the region of 200 scientists and clinicians, and represents Ireland on the Governing Council of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Professor Áine Kelly, President of NI, to hear about their vital work driving forward excellence in neuroscience in Ireland and internationally.
Professor John F. Connolly – Breaking Through Barriers: Assessing Cognitive Function in Patients Unable to Communicate and Those with Invisible Injuries
When assessing an individual’s cognitive functioning (such as memory and sense of orientation to the environment) traditional strategies have relied on verbal and behavioural responses. But how can this be achieved if a patient is unable to communicate in this way due to impairment arising, for example, from brain injury? Professor John F. Connolly, Director of the ARiEAL Research Centre at McMaster University, Canada, and Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer at VoxNeuro, has developed an innovative neurotechnology to assess cognitive functioning in individuals that does not rely on verbal or behavioural responses.
The discovery that the brain can change and reorganise itself revolutionised our understanding of neuroscience. Termed neuroplasticity, the field has seen an explosion of interest. An exciting form of plasticity has now been identified, in which neurons change their chemical communicator in response to environmental stimuli. Dr Nicholas Spitzer of the University of California, San Diego and his colleagues are looking to understand what causes this, what the effects are, and whether we can harness this exciting new facet of neurobiology to develop novel therapeutics for neurologic and psychiatric disorders.
The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition (CYPMHC) brings together more than 200 leading charities in the UK with the shared goal of improving the mental health and well-being of children and young people. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Oliver Glick, Policy Officer at CYPMHC, to hear about their achievements over the past decade and future plans.
The Malaysian Psychological Association was established in 1988 to promote the field of psychology in the country. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Associate Professor Dr Rozainee Khairudin, President of the Malaysian Psychological Association, to hear about their critical work in developing psychology, which during the global COVID-19 pandemic, is more important than ever.
Professor Carl Borrebaeck | Dr Ulrika Axelsson – Finding the Molecular Fingerprint of Psychological Resilience in Breast Cancer Patients
Professor Carl Borrebaeck and Dr Ulrika Axelsson are Director and Deputy Director, respectively, of the CREATE Health Translational Cancer Centre, Lund University, Sweden; a venue with an outstanding record of world-class cancer research. They are leading research into the fascinating topic of whether cancer patients’ psychological resilience after their cancer diagnosis may be linked to biomolecular processes, suggesting a mind-body link between the ability to cope psychologically and its impact on cancer prognosis.
Poor sleep is a common difficulty issue for teenagers and young adults worldwide. Unfortunately, the impact of poor sleep is substantial with clear links to mental health difficulties. Dr Colleen Carney, an Associate Professor and the Director of the Sleep and Depression Laboratory at Ryerson University, Canada, is committed to helping people sleep better. Dr Carney has recently turned her expertise to the development of an innovative app to alleviate sleep problems in teenagers and young adults.
Neurodegenerative disorders present a major cause of death and disability worldwide. Treatments are typically expensive, non-efficient, and invasive. Although scientists are committed to finding better treatment strategies, the challenge of penetrating the blood-brain barrier remains. This highly selective envelope protects our brain from harmful substances but also prevents drugs from reaching the brain when needed. Dr Shikha Nangia at Syracuse University, USA, focuses on understanding the molecular structure of this complex interface to ultimately facilitate the transport of drugs across the blood-brain barrier.
Dr Jun Hua, Associate Professor at the F. M. Kirby Research Center for Functional Brain Imaging at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University, USA, leads a team focused on developing novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologies for imaging the structure and function of the brain. Recently, they have been pioneering the development of new MRI techniques that can be used to improve pre-surgical planning for neurological patients and optimise patient outcomes.
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is among the most impactful and costly biomedical challenges confronting society. Current treatment regimens for T2D rely upon daily drug dosing and frequent glucose monitoring to normalise blood glucose levels. However, these medications can only delay disease progression and frequently have undesired side effects including hypoglycaemia and weight gain. Growing evidence supports a key role for the brain in glucose homeostasis and diabetes pathogenesis. Dr Jarrad Scarlett and his research team at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital are working on the development of novel pharmaceuticals to target the brain to induce sustained remission of T2D.
In recent years, dramatic advances have been made in brain science and molecular genetics. However, there is currently a shortage of psychiatrists with the scientific training necessary to take this knowledge and apply it in the clinic. Psychiatrist and neuroscience researcher, Dr Susan Voglmaier of the University of California, San Francisco, runs a research training program that supports the next generation of research scientists in the field of psychiatry. Dr Voglmaier believes that by training doctors in scientific techniques and methods, we may come to better understand mental illness and provide more effective treatments for psychiatric diseases in the future.
Professor Matthias Weigelt – The Psychology and Ethics of Maximising Performance in Competitive Sports
In sporting performance, developing a competitive edge over opponents is essential. Professor Matthias Weigelt at the University of Paderborn, Germany, specialises in the application of psychological theory and methods to the understanding and enhancement of athletic performance. Read on to discover how by taking a cognitive neuroscientific approach to understanding deceptive actions in sports, Professor Weigelt is unravelling the processes underlying expertise in responding to head fakes in basketball with critical ethical implications.
Professor Gerhard Rammes – Investigating the Links between General Anaesthesia and Alzheimer’s Disease
General anaesthesia may increase the build-up of amyloid beta, a protein implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Professor Gerhard Rammes and his team at the Technische Universität München, Munich, Germany, along with Dr Martina Bürge at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, UK, are researching the potential benefits of one specific anaesthetic, xenon, which in addition to having lower neurotoxicity than many other anaesthetics may also offer neuroprotective effects. These findings may have critical implications for personalised medicine in patients with dementia.
Schizophrenia is a serious psychiatric disorder that affects around 1% of the global population, producing debilitating symptoms that significantly impact upon the quality of life of sufferers. Even with treatment, prognosis is often poor with a high risk of relapse. Dr Samuel Clark of Terran Biosciences Inc and colleagues at Stony Brook University, New York, are investigating the potential of blocking one type of opioid receptor in the brain – the kappa receptor – to reduce the symptoms of the disease.
Professor Christine Larson – Understanding Brain Function, Cognition, and Emotion in Psychopathology
Mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders significantly impact on the quality of life of sufferers, their physical health and psycho-social functioning. Given the high prevalence and extent of impairment inflicted on affected individuals, the economic cost to public health is substantial. Professor Christine Larson at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA, seeks to identify new and more effective targets for intervention by better understanding the relationship between brain function, cognitive processing, and emotion.