BSc, MSc, DPhil
In our research group we explore the ways in which the brain processes emotional information and how this is affected by chemical messengers in the brain (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. As well as telling us about normal brain function, this may help us understand emotional disorders such as depression and how these may be helped by drug treatments that affect neurotransmitter function. We attempt to understand how conventional treatments may work, and also whether we can predict new candidate treatments for depression and anxiety using experimental medicine models.
Together with Dr. Riccardo De Giorgi, Prof. Catherine Harmer and Prof. Phil Cowen I currently investigate whether an anti-inflammatory drug changes the way the brain deals with emotional and rewarding information in people with depression. There is growing scientific evidence that some patients may not respond to conventional antidepressants because they have a mild grade of inflammation. These patients may therefore benefit from taking anti-inflammatory drugs.
Furthermore, together with Prof. Paul Harrison and Prof. Elizabeth Tunbridge, we aim to understand how genetic factors impact on brain functions relevant to psychiatric illness. We focus in particular on the catechol-O-methyltransferase’s (COMT) gene. COMT influences the function of dopamine, which is implicated in a number of psychiatric disorders, but is also critical in healthy brain functions.
Previous work in our lab showed that a drug that inhibits COMT increases dopamine levels in the brain and improves memory and attention. Moreover it was discovered that a person’s genetic make-up determines whether the drug will improve memory or not. These findings emphasise that genetic factors can influence the response to a drug and suggest that in the future successful therapies may need to take a person’s individual genetic make-up into account
The main objective of my DPhil was to extend these findings by investigating COMT’s impact on brain functions beyond memory (like emotional processing) but more importantly, how the links between dopamine, COMT and memory are altered by environmental factors like stress.
I am also a tutor on the FSL course and FMRIB's Graduate Course for MRI analysis.