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Enhancing Neuroimaging Genetics through Meta-analysis (ENIGMA) of Conduct Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder in youth

  • Full or part time

    Dr P Tino
  • Application Deadline
    Saturday, February 08, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

ENIGMA is an international collaborative effort that brings together over 1400 researchers across 43 countries to better understand brain structure, function, health and disease, based on meta-/mega- analyses of brain imaging and genetic data (http://enigma.ini.usc.edu). There are currently over 50 active ENIGMA working groups covering various fields within psychiatry and neuroscience (see our recent review here). We have recently set-up the ENIGMA Antisocial Behaviour working group on which the student will work. Despite notable advances in recent years, the overall impact and replicability of work in this field has been limited by small sample sizes and heterogeneous participant characteristics, imaging acquisition methods, and data analysis techniques. The harmonized meta-analytical approach of ENIGMA allows one to address these challenges more adequately, gain deeper insights into underlying pathophysiology, and generate more reproducible and generalizable findings.

The ENIGMA Antisocial Behavior initiative will focus on data covering the entire lifespan; this includes structural and functional MRI data on Conduct Problems/Disorder in youths, as well as Antisocial Personality Disorder/Psychopathy in adults. Analyses will not only be focused on disorders and categorical approaches, but also dimensional approaches where neuroimaging/genetics data that can be linked to dimensional measures indexing externalizing behaviors and environmental risk factors (e.g., early childhood adversity) in both clinical/forensic and community samples.

In the context of this studentship, the student would use machine-learning methods to investigate the similarities and differences in grey and white matter volume abnormalities (as measured by voxel-based morphometry and diffusion-weighted imaging) between youth with conduct disorder with and without major depressive disorder (MDD) and typically developing youth. A secondary objective will be to investigate the extent to which childhood maltreatment is related to the structural abnormalities in CD and MDD and their co-occurrence. The results of this project will provide a better insight into the neural substrates and networks underlying CD, MDD and their co-occurrence and a potent environmental risk factor for both disorders, which may help refine existing theoretical models and ultimately help identify novel prevention and treatment targets.

The student working on this project will have the opportunity to liaise and network with researchers across the globe. There will be opportunities for training with our ENIGMA collaborators in the Netherlands and Australia.

Training opportunities, inter-disciplinary environment, and relevant expertise of the supervisors: Interdisciplinarity and training are at the core of the project, which will combine methods from psychology, neuroimaging, and computer/data science. The project is now possible because of the recent and rapid technological advancements in the field of neuroimaging and computer/data science, which together will put this project at the forefront of psychiatric and neuroimaging research. Dr Stephane De Brito (School of Psychology, UoB) is the co-chair of the ENIGMA Antisocial Behavior working group and has extensive expertise in structural and functional magnetic resonance brain imaging techniques applied to conduct disorder and childhood maltreatment. Professor Peter Tino (School of Computer Science, UoB) is a world expert on machine learning and its interdisciplinary applications has recently co-supervised a MIBTP PhD student with Dr De Brito. He also has a proven track record of successful collaborations with other colleagues in Psychology. Dr Lianne Schmaal (Orygen, University of Melbourne) is the co-chair of the ENIGMA Major Depressive Disorder working group and an international expert on the neurobiology of depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Her work on depression integrates clinical, psychosocial, neurobiological and genetic data through computational modelling and machine learning.

Funding Notes

The IMH at the University of Birmingham was established in August 2017 with a focus on inter-disciplinary approaches to youth mental health. We have a PhD scholarship to be awarded, commencing September 2020. We are advertising two projects, and the scholarship will be awarded to the best fit of student and project. The scholarship is for four years with the expectation that the student spends at least one year in Melbourne. These awards are part of the wider Priestley joint PhD programme between the Universities of Birmingham and Melbourne.


Key references:
Fairchild, G., […], De Brito, S. A. (2019). Nature Reviews Disease Primers. 27;5(1):43
Schmaal et al. (under review) https://psyarxiv.com/6j2rw/
Bearden and Thompson (2017). Neuron. 94(2): 232 – 236
Rogers and De Brito (2016). JAMA Psychiatry 73(1):64-72

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 40.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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