Project ID NS-MH2024_14


Co Supervisor 1A Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, School of Academic Psychiatry, Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental ScienceWebsite

Co Supervisor 1B Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, School of Academic Psychiatry, Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental ScienceWebsite

Additional Supervisor Prof Emily Simonoff

Partner EqualEyes/The Hyve/Janssen

Novel digital tools and therapies to improve the mental health of autistic people.


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 (;; Co-I Dr Daly, Prof Simonoff).
The second is a feasibility study of an app-based anxiety intervention for autistic people (; 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.

Yearly objectives:

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.

Representative Publications

Huang, Q., Pereira, A., Velthuis, H., Wong, N., Ellis, C., Ponteduro, F., … & McAlonan, G. (2022). GABAB receptor modulation of visual sensory processing in adults with and without autism spectrum disorder. Translational Medicine, DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abg7859;

Tricklebank, M., & Daly, E., (2019). The Serotonin System: History, Neuropharmacology, and Pathology – 1st Edition. London: Elsevier Science; Wichers, R., Findon, J., Jelsma, A., Giampietro, V., Stoencheva, V., … & Daly, E. (2019). Modulation of brain activation during executive functioning in autism with citalopram. Translational Psychiatry, doi: 10.1038/s41398- 019-0641-0

Oakley, B., Tillmann, J., Ahmad, J., Crawley, D., San Jose Caceres, A., Holt, R., … & Loth, E. (2020). How do core autism traits and associated symptoms relate to quality of life? Findings from the Longitudinal European Autism Project. Autism,;

Oakley, B., Jones, E., Crawley, D., Charman, T., Buitelaar, J., Tillmann, J., … & Loth, E. (2020). Alexithymia in autism: cross-sectional and longitudinal associations with social-communication difficulties, anxiety and depression symptoms. Psychological Medicine,;

Oakley, B., Tillmann, J., Ruigrok, A., Baranger, A., Takow, C., Charman, T., … & Murphy, D. (2021). COVID-19 health and social care access for autistic people: European policy review. BMJ Open, doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-045341