Research

An image of teh molecular structure of  a brain

The Research Institute's research is principally undertaken through the following four themes:

Many of the commonest neuropsychiatric disorders have their origins in early brain development. Risk for these disorders is influenced by both genetics and the environment in which the brain develops.

We now understand that brain development has an important role not only in classical disorders of childhood such as autism and ADHD, but also in illnesses with later onset such as schizophrenia and mood disorders.

Brain development is a complex process that takes place over many years and is increasingly recognised to extend well into the second decade of life.

In the Research Institute we are interested in how genetic and environmental factors acting on brain development alter risk for mental illness and we study this process in a variety of ways including using cellular assays, model systems and clinical, cognitive and imaging studies. These are applied to patient and developmental groups including carriers of rarer high penetrance genetic risk factors.

One of the most remarkable features of the brain is its plasticity and adaptability. Such plasticity is seen through development, but also in the adult brain in processes such as learning and memory.

Abnormalities in the pathways underlying plasticity in the brain are increasingly recognised to increase vulnerability for psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism. Deficits in learning and memory are also central to dementia and related disorders of old age.

Within the Research Institute we are interested in both the basic molecular and the physiological processes underlying learning, prediction and plasticity in the brain, and in their relevance to the understanding and treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders. We address these issues using studies which span from cellular approaches to human brain imaging studies in patients.

Alterations in the balance of excitation and inhibition in brain circuits are central to the development of epilepsy.

Furthermore, altered cortical excitatory/inhibitory balance is increasingly recognised as potentially contributing to risk for psychiatric disorders such as autism, ADHD and schizophrenia.

This is particularly important as these psychiatric conditions are frequently co-occurent with epilepsy, with shared co-morbidities of learning and memory impairment, suggesting that research in these areas may help uncover common mechanisms.

Excitingly this avenue of research also opens up the possibility of developing new therapies for these disorders. Here at the Research Institute we study epilepsy and related conditions using a wide spectrum of techniques. These include human stem and iPS cells, systems neuroscience, clinical psychology and functional imaging studies, on patients from the National Epilepsy Surgery programme.

In an ageing population, disorders of neurodegeneration are becoming increasingly prevalent and represent a major burden on individuals and society.

Neurodegenerative disorders include the dementias, such as Alzheimer's disease, and also Parkinson's Disease, Huntington's Disease and other related conditions. 

Scientists from the Research Institute are involved in research from cellular to clinical studies uncovering the basis of these disorders and looking for new routes to therapy including cellular transplantation in Huntington's Disease and new approaches such as immune modulation in Alzheimer's disease.