At least 50% of autistic people experience anxiety, however there are few evidence-based therapies available to support them. This PhD project incorporates digital tools to elucidate mechanisms underpinning anxiety in autism and provide proof-of-concept for the use of app-based anxiety intervention strategies specially designed for autistic people.
1. To identify mechanistic pathways to anxiety in autism, using behavioural, cognitive, and physiological indices captured by digital tools.
2. To assess the acceptability and effectiveness of a novel, app-based anxiety intervention for autistic people that targets mechanisms identified in Aim 1.
The project includes data from two ongoing studies that involve joint working with multidisciplinary teams (academics, clinicians, lived experience experts, industry, non-profit organisations) across Europe.
The first study is the ‘clinical endpoints’ component of the AIMS-2-TRIALS Longitudinal European Autism Project – the largest multidisciplinary study worldwide to identify variability in autism (https://www.aims-2-trials.eu/2021/07/01/developing-wearable-technology-with-involvement-from-autistic-people/; https://www.aims-2-trials.eu/leap-front-page/; Co-I Dr Daly, Prof Simonoff).
The second is a feasibility study of an app-based anxiety intervention for autistic people (https://classic.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT05302167; PI Dr Oakley).
The student will gain skills in:
• Systematic review, meta-analysis.
• Quantitative methods and analytics –behavioural, cognitive, physiological (heart rate variability), neurobiological (EEG, MRI), biochemical (serotonin, inflammation) and/or genetic data, and app usage data.
• Qualitative methods and analytics: semi-structured interviews, thematic analysis.
• Clinical trial design.
Y1: Systematic review/meta-analysis of research on digital wearables and therapeutics targeting anxiety in autism. Data collection/database curation for the two research projects highlighted above.
Y2-Y3: Analyses to investigate associations between anxiety and its candidate mechanistic pathways in autism (AIMS-2-TRIALS LEAP), and the acceptability/feasibility of a novel app-based anxiety intervention for autistic people (Molehill Mountain).
Y4: Supporting transition to the postdoctoral phase through consolidation of the work/analyses (including opportunity for industry placement), publication, and insight on the translation of scientific research to real-world clinical trials.