Brain and mind translation research

This strand of the Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research (PIHR)  brain and mind research theme brings focus to the understanding and characterisation of change in mind and brain function, and the differences that arise between individuals. 

Variability within a person is a natural part of the life course, although variability between people or groups can have its roots in a great variety of factors (e.g. pathological, genetic, epigenetic). 

Research in this strand, therefore, seeks to translate knowledge about fundamental mechanisms into this constellation of contexts, allowing us to identify the hallmarks of healthy function as well as the mechanisms that underlie variability, and their consequences for the individual.

Biomedical research

The Biomedical Research Group employs state-of-the-art capabilities to explore the mechanisms underlying disease, with a prominent focus on both molecular and in-vitro brain research. This includes disorders of myelinating cells (Parkinson), ischemia (Fern), and brain tumours (Hanemann, Parkinson, Barros), and the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence is world-leading in neural oncology research. 

Neurodegenerative diseases are an additional area of expertise, including study of Alzheimer's (Glebov), Motor Neurone (Hanemann), Huntingdon’s (Luo), and Parkinson's (Kramer, Glebov, Carroll) diseases. 

One highlight is ongoing work to understand genetic aspects of Parkinson’s and how these influence disease development risk, phenotype and progression. These insights are complemented by additional research that explores potential mechanisms for repair (Barros, Dun, Parkinson). Together, this body of research aims to develop new biomarkers and treatments and to test them in different model systems we have established. This involves developing new ways of conducting clinical trials, finding new drug targets, developing new targeted therapies using innovative trial designs (Hanemann, McCallum, Carroll, Zeissler), and optimizing/developing outcome measures in a way that is meaningful to patients (Hobart). Our Clinical Trials Unit has successfully run multicentre symptomatic and neuroprotective trials in neurodegenerative diseases.

Applied psychology

Researchers in the School of Psychology examine the mechanisms by which environmental risk factors influence mental health. This includes understanding of the processes that underpin human motivation, which lie at the heart of many health-related behaviours (Lloyd, Andrade, Brennan, May). 

There is a large focus on how individual differences contribute to behaviour and experience, such as variability in resilience, emotion, and visible appearance, and the social and cognitive implications of these in everyday life (Bacon, May, Norman). 

Additional projects include: 

  • understanding health attitudes and behaviours (Bacon)
  • mediating, moderating and protective factors that influence the psychological effects of child bereavement (Stedmon)
  • processes of inclusion and exclusion in education and society (Minton)
  • effects of natural environments on health and wellbeing (Wyles)
  • consequences of online gaming, gambling and consumer and corporate behaviour on mental wellbeing (Lloyd, Close)
  • the psychological mechanisms of conventional and complementary treatments (Whalley). 
Psychological insights greatly inform the legal process, and members of the School also conduct research on a variety of forensic topics that contribute to our knowledge of criminal behaviour and investigation (Brennan, Hollins, Ganis).

Rehabilitation

The Rehabilitation Research Group undertakes work to enhance understanding of the underlying mechanisms contributing to functional difficulties, as well as the factors that affect rehabilitation, care packages, and service delivery.

Much of their work characterises the impact of impairments on function in people with central and peripheral neurological disease (Marsden, Freeman). This includes including diabetic neuropathy (Paton) and variables affecting prognosis, such as the risk factors associated with falls in people with multiple sclerosis (Gunn).

Eye and Vision research

An important focus on the eye and vision research group has been the assessment of whether the easily accessible retinal microvasculature could provide a window into accelerated ageing, or an individual’s systemic vascular health and cardiovascular risk (Mroczkowska, Szostek). 

The Cataract and Refractive Surgery research team conducts both in-vivo and in-vitro investigations to examine the efficacy of Intraocular lens (IOL) implantation and the surgical techniques used to implant them. The team has developed new outcome measures for the clinical assessment of IOLs which assess; visual function, the subjective perception of vision, and the stability of the IOLs within the eye (Del Águila-Carrasco, Papadatou, Buckhurst). 

Cataract extraction is the most common surgical procedure with approximately 400,000 performed every year within the UK. The Human Myopia Laboratory (H. Buckhurst, P. Buckhurst, Oehring, Szostek) is furthering our understanding of the mechanism by which human myopia develops to inform improved methods of screening individuals at risk of myopia and improving the strategies for controlling it.