Brain and mind community research

Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research (PIHR) brain and mind community research focuses on the relationship between scientific discovery and the wider community. This not only includes the development, specification, and delivery of evidence-based interventions, but also the promotion of behaviours that can support health and wellbeing, both at an individual and at a group level.


An important focus of PIHR research is to support the development of evidence-based interventions and practice. Within brain and mind research, this includes the work of the Rehabilitation research group, members of whom develop and test interventions to support the recovery, maintenance of function and prevention of avoidable complications in people who have resolving conditions such as stroke (Marsden, Demain), and those whose condition is long-term, static or deteriorating such as multiple sclerosis (Marsden, Gunn, Freeman, Demain) and Parkinson’s disease (Carroll, Marsden, Demain). 

Further rehabilitation work focuses on those post brain injury living within community settings and supporting their long-term biological, psychological, and social needs (Norman).

Tackling disease in individuals and society

The Applied Parkinson’s Research Group (Carroll, Mullin) undertakes clinical trials and studies aimed at improving the lives of those with Parkinson’s disease. The use of neuroprotective interventions has recently been explored in PD STAT, the first academic multi-centre protective Parkinson’s trial in the UK, which was co-ordinated by the Peninsula Clinical Trials Unit. The group is co-leading (with UCL) the ACT-PD consortium to develop the world’s first multi-arm, multi-stage platform for neuroprotective trials in Parkinson’s. An important element is understanding stakeholder priorities with regard to trial design (Zeissler, Carroll). A key area of research is the use of digital innovation for research and personalised care, with the use of routine data sets, imaging data, wearables and app development, working with colleagues in Centre for Health Technology and School of Engineering, Computing and Mathematics.

Other disease specific research projects include: 

  • The Dementia – Person Aligned Care Team (D-PACT) programme (Byng), which aims to develop and evaluate a system for dementia support based on general practice for people living with dementia and their carers.
  • Supporting communities to become more dementia-friendly (Sheriff).
  • The interface between policy, research and practice in dementia care, with a focus on quality of life (Banerjee). 

Plymouth’s Centre for Health Technology has undertaken research into the possibilities of digital technologies to transform care for those living with dementia as has the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research, which in collaboration with PIHR has developed the RadioMe project, aimed at developing broadcasting technology to improve the lives of people suffering from dementia; as well as internationally renowned research enabling disabled musicians to make music through brain signals.

The Eye and Vision research group has also developed a wide range of diagnostic and treatment approaches, including Myopia (Buckhurst), Ocular Biomechanics (Buckhurst), Visual Psychophysics (Artes, Joshi, Schmidtmann), Ageing and Vascular Health (Mroczkowska, Szostek) and Refractive Surgery (Aguila-Carrasco, Oehring).

Promoting mental and physical health and well-being

This is an important focus for the Community and Primary Care Research Group who are particularly involved in addressing socio-economic inequalities in mental health (around 66% of people with mental health disorders live in poverty and isolation and only 12% are employed).
Projects include: 

  • Partners 2, a programme that has developed a system of collaborative care, based in GP surgeries for people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (Byng)
  • Engager, a novel intervention for offenders with common mental health problems, near to and after release (Byng)
  • DEStress, a project examining the medicalisation of mental distress caused by material deprivation and social disadvantage (Byng)
  • Strengthen, a project examining whether additional support via Health Trainers is effective in improving the health behaviours and wellbeing of people receiving community supervision (Taylor)
  • PHASED: a systematic review of physical activity for alcohol and substance use disorders (Thompson)
  • Flourish in Nature, a project supporting 140 people in their alcohol and drug use recovery journey by providing opportunities as volunteers in natural environments (Thompson)
  • e-CoachER, a multi-centred randomised controlled trial investigating the impact of web-based coaching on health-enhancing physical activity for patients with chronic physical and mental health conditions (Taylor). 

The TARs study, has examined the effects of behavioural support (delivered by Health Trainers) targeting physical activity and smoking reduction, for smokers not wishing to quit, on various outcomes including six month biochemically verified prolonged abstinence (Taylor, Thompson, Callaghan, Horrell). 

Much of the Group’s research on social prescribing also explores how patients with mental health needs may benefit from being connected to community resources, information and social activities, as well as linking people to a range of statutory and non-statutory agencies (Husk, Elston, Gradinger, Hazeldine, Westlake, Callaghan, Warren, Beaulieu). 

Further research looks at the intrinsic link between the brain and physical health through studies of fibromyalgia (Bacon, Hyland) and pituitary conditions (Norman).

Formally launched in October 2018 and led by Professor Rohit Shankar, The Cornwall Intellectual Disability Equitable Research (CIDER), is a partnership between the University of Plymouth and Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT) focusing on epilepsy in people with intellectual disabilities.

Children and young people

PIHR Brain and Mind researchers work extensively in evidence-based prevention and early intervention to improve on child psychosocial outcomes. 

They use a variety of methods, including evidence reviews, mixed methods randomised controlled trials, process evaluations and rapid cycle testing. Their interests span an equally wide range of subject areas, such as: 

  • anti-social behaviour
  • bullying
  • child maltreatment
  • early childhood development
  • social-emotional learning. 

Through these avenues, our researchers aim to develop and test effective interventions that can be implemented at scale.
Key projects include: 

  • ADAPT, an evidence-based programme for young mothers (Axford)
  • Chance UK, a mentoring programme for 5-11 year-old children in London who are reported to be displaying challenging behaviour and emotional problems at school and at home (Axford)
  • The development of guidance for schools to best support parents' engagement in their children's learning (Axford). 

Our nursing researchers undertake a diverse range of studies, including research investigating factors that influence maternal perceptions and use of knowledge relating to their infant’s mental health (Peters); and factors enabling women to be better prepared for pregnancy (Shawe).

Intellectual disability

Formally launched in October 2018 and led by Professor Rohit Shankar, The Cornwall Intellectual Disability Equitable Research (CIDER), is a partnership between the University of Plymouth and Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CFT) focusing on people with intellectual disabilities. The activity of the partnership ranges from research right through to policy development (working with NHS England, local authorities and NHS Trusts), training and co-production. Current work includes research on comorbid intellectual disability and epilepsy, including sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP).