Mental illnesses account for almost 30% of the disease burden among non-communicable diseases worldwide. In the last decades environmental changes have severely altered living conditions also affecting the mental health of the population. However, the concrete impact of these changes as well as their molecular and neurobiological mechanisms remain unclear. In the absence of this knowledge, it has not been possible to identify risk factors and to develop targeted interventions to prevent and treat mental illnesses.
environMENTAL, a EU and Innovate UK funded project, investigates how the environment affects mental and brain health during the lifespan. The environMENTAL consortium has committed itself to five central project objectives that will lead to the development of objective biomarkers and evidence-based interventions that will significantly improve outcomes of environmentally related mental illness.
This PhD project will be embedded in its Objective 3: “Establishment of quantitative neurobiological biomarkers for prediction and stratification of environmentally-related mental illness”.
Specifically, the student will make use of already collected data from population and clinical cohorts to identify
predictive biomarkers for the risk, onset, and progression of symptoms of common mental illness, including eating disorders, depression and substance abuse using statistical analyses that accommodate longitudinal data. Data available for analyses include cognitive and behavioural data, clinical symptoms, neuroimaging and multi-omics data (genetics, epigenetics, gene expression and proteomics).
a. Familiarize themselves with the neurobiological basis of mental disorders and our databases
b. Generate a review synthesizing our current knowledge of the pathophysiology of mental illness from evidence from neuroimaging, neurocognitive, and genetic studies, and their influence by environmental factors.
c. Refine research questions and learn analytical skills appropriate to the project, such as advanced statistics, neuroimaging or ‘omics data analysis.
Years 2-3: Run analyses and draft papers.
Years 3-4: Finalise analyses and submit thesis.