Our research group is conducting analyses of structural MRI brain scans from over 10,000 patients from a global consortium called ENIGMA (https://enigma.ini.usc.edu/). As individual MRI studies tend to include around 50 to 100 patients, having access to this larger sample has meant we are able to determine abnormalities with much higher accuracy. From these data we are creating detailed ‘Voxel Based Morphometry (VBM)’ maps of brain abnormalities in each of the following patient groups: Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Major Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Early Onset Psychosis. A key question and aim for this PhD are how these maps of brain abnormalities may be linked to 1) common ‘transdiagnostic’ risk factors associated with mental health disorders such as childhood adversity, 2) cognitive deficits such as verbal memory and executive function and lastly 3) how these maps may correlate with the distribution of specific neurotransmitters in the brain. Aim 1 and 2 will be investigated by using MRI data from the UK Biobank (a population sample of >60,000 scans) and aim 3 will be addressed by using published neurotransmitter atlases generated from positron emission tomography (PET) scans.
The above is an initial plan for the PhD but the student will have the opportunity to focus on the areas of research that they are most interested in.
In addition to the PhD there will be an opportunity to be involved in data collection including clinical assessments in other projects run by the supervisors.
Year-1: Training in neuroimaging and the ENIGMA VBM-tool, applying to UK Biobank and downloading MRI data. Optional data collection.
Year-2: Investigating the correlation with risk factors, cognitive deficits and neurotransmitters
Year-3: Completing data analysis, thesis write-up and publications.
Additional training in PhD skills including communication and writing academic papers via the supervisors’ lab meetings and the Centre for Doctoral Studies.