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A brain-based approach to identifying and treating cerebral visual impairment in children


   School of Psychology

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  Assoc Prof Denis Schluppeck  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

In this project we aim to quantify residual visual function in children and adolescents who have suffered brain damage early in their development. This type of vision loss, called cerebral visual impairment (CVI), is the leading cause of childhood sight loss in the developed world. Currently, diagnosis and treatment are overly reliant on observed patterns of behavior and generalized assessments [Chang & Borchert, 2020].

We will use brain imaging to quantify structural and functional loss to provide an objective measure of sight loss and guide rehabilitative strategies. As with stroke patients, there is often a mismatch between the observed symptoms and underlying residual anatomy and brain function: many different patterns of damage may lead to similar assessment outcomes [Papanikolaou et al, 2014]. In fact, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the optimal treatment approach for each child with CVI may be unique.

-- Background -- 

Around 50% of the entire human neocortex is given over to the analysis of visual information. Therefore, damage to the brain in early childhood invariably has visual consequences. It is estimated that between 30-40% of all children with visual impairment in the developed world have CVI and around 10% of all children with developmental disorders are affected [Swaminathan, 2011]. CVI is also associated with premature birth, cerebral palsy and a range of other conditions. In many cases, impaired visual function is difficult to detect and often goes unnoticed unless the visual loss is very severe. As a result, CVI remains the top priority in the area of childhood-onset eye disorders set by the Sight Loss and Vision Priority Setting Partnership [Rowe et al., 2014] and the James Lind Alliance [see references]. Because the pattern of visual loss in each child is often unique, but the assessment tools are general, a novel approach is needed.

Recent work from our lab, funded by Fight for Sight, has established a new set of precision imaging tools that allows us to combine information from cortical loss maps (measured with fMRI), visual field coverage (with perimetry), as well as anatomical markers of gray and white matter damage [Beh et al., 2021]. These measures will allow us to better quantify residual function in the visual brain and help guide rehabilitative strategies in individuals with CVI. 

-- Importance / impact -- 

This project will enable us to develop a new line of research (applying our methodology to a large potential cohort of patients). This will strengthen connections to the medical school in collaboration with Prof R Dineen (Academic Radiology), Mr S Thomas (Ophthalmology) and others at QMC. Our team has also secured funding for scan time at the SPMIC, which will allow a successful applicant to scan a pilot cohort (10 participants). These pilot data will form the basis of funding applications to the Wellcome Trust and the MRC.

-- References --

Beh A, McGraw PV, Webb BS, Schluppeck D, 2022. Front. Neurosci. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2021.737215/full

Chang, M.Y. and Borchert, M.S., (2020(. Survey of ophthalmology, 65(6), pp.708-724.

James Lind Alliance – https://www.jla.nihr.ac.uk/priority-setting-partnerships/sight-loss-and-vision/top-10-priorities/childhood-onset-disorders-top-10.htm

Papanikolaou, A., Keliris, G. A., Papageorgiou, T. D., Shao, Y., Krapp, E., Papageorgiou, E., et al. (2014). Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 111, E1656–E1665. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1317074111

Rowe, F., Wormald, R., Cable, R., Acton, M., Bonstein, K., Bowen, M., Bronze, C., Bunce, C., Conroy, D., Cowan, K. and Evans, K., 2014. BMJ open, 4(7), p.e004905.

Swaminathan M. (2011). Cortical visual impairment in children - A new challenge for the future?. Oman journal of ophthalmology, 4(1), 1–2. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-620X.77654

Additional Information:

The studentship is part of a cohort of 7 funded studentships in the School of Psychology. You can find more information about the PhD environment and the department can be found via these webpages:

https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/psychology/news/sevenfundedphdsop.aspx

https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/psychology/study-with-us/phd-by-research/phd-by-research.aspx

How to apply:

All applications are to be made directly to the University, selecting PhD Psychology (36 months duration) as the course. Please apply at:

https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/pgstudy/how-to-apply/apply-online.aspx.

In the research proposal section please only include “7 fully funded PhD posts in Psychology” in the title. You are required to upload the following documents to your application:

  • C.V.
  • Personal statement (maximum 1 page) about why you are interested in pursuing a PhD in psychology, any relevant research experience and brief details on what project(s) you are interested in and why.
  • Either two references (in a non-editable format such as pdf, on headed paper and signed by the referee) or the details (email addresses) of two referees that we can contact. One of the references must be academic.

If you have any questions about the application process through MyNottingham, please contact [Email Address Removed] for further advice.

Deadline: 15th July 2022


Funding Notes

The studentships are funded by the Faculty of Science and will provide a stipend to cover living costs (approximately £15,875) and cover Home University fees (estimated at £4,496) for the duration of the project and thesis writing (36 months). Please note the level of support will not cover international fees (around £25,000 a year). Candidates are encouraged to contact the lead supervisor of the project they are interested in before making an application.
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