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The neural, behavioural, and clinical effects of non-invasive brain stimulation in Prolonged Disorders of Consciousness

   School of Psychology

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  Dr D Fernández-Espejo, Dr D Cruse  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

It is now well accepted that a significant proportion of patients who are thought to have a prolonged disorder of consciousness (PDOC) actually possess a high level of cognitive function, but are simply unable to demonstrate this with purposeful motor behaviours. However, no therapies have proven successful for inducing or accelerating recovery in these patients. As part of a recently awarded three-year grant (https://gtr.ukri.org/projects?ref=MR%2FP02596X%2F1), our lab is currently exploring the potential for non-invasive brain stimulation (transcranial direct current stimulation; tDCS), coupled with passive mobilisation, to modulate the dynamics of the motor system and subsequently increase motor responsiveness. This PhD project will focus on the translation of this fundamental scientific research into direct clinical impact with PDOC patients themselves. We will capitalise on the unique clinical environment at The Wellington Hospital, London, which is home to both a specialised unit for rehabilitation of PDOC and in-house MRI facilities, and will thereby establish a programme for characterising the neural, clinical, and behavioural effects of tDCS in individual PDOC patients.

The project will involve the following techniques:
• Designing, planning, and running novel paradigms to quantify responsiveness in PDOC
• Functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging
• Electroencephalography (EEG)
• Electromyography (EMG)
• Non-invasive brain stimulation
• Advanced signal processing and statistical analyses.
• Computational modelling

Applicants should have a research-oriented background in cognitive neuroscience, clinical neuroscience, or experimental psychology and should have basic programming skills (e.g., MATLAB). Experience with neuroimaging, non-invasive brain stimulation and data analysis, and working with patients with brain injury is desirable. 

The starting date for this PhD is 14th January 2019. 
Application deadline is 12th November 2018

The successful applicant will be based at the Centre for Human Brain Health, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, and will be supervised by Dr Davinia Fernández-Espejo (http://www.daviniafernandezespejo.com/) and co-supervised by Dr Damian Cruse (https://www.damiancruse.com/ ). Our School of Psychology is one of the strongest and most active psychology departments in the UK, and have an excellent reputation for teaching and research with around 800 students studying in a wide range of undergraduate, postgraduate and research programmes. Further information can be found at:

https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/courses/research/psych/psychology.aspx https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/centre-human-brain-health/index.aspx

For informal enquiries about the project please contact Dr. Davinia Fernández-Espejo ([Email Address Removed]).

Formal applications must be made via the postgraduate admissions system in the School of Psychology. In order for the application to be processed quickly, candidates should submit a personal statement, CV, 2 references, and transcript of grades. 

The on-line application form and guidance notes can be found at the following website: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/courses/research/psych/psychology.aspx?OpenSection=HowToApply

Funding Notes

This is a funded opportunity. There is one scholarship available. The funding covers home/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend for 3 years (at RCUK standard rate). International Students from outside the EU may apply, but are liable for the difference between UK/EU and International (Overseas) tuition fees. 

If you have any questions about this opportunity please contact [Email Address Removed].


1. Fernández-Espejo D, Rossit S, Owen AM. A Thalamocortical Mechanism for the Absence of Overt Motor Behavior in Covertly Aware Patients. JAMA Neurology 2015, in press. link

2. Osborne N, Owen AM and Fernández-Espejo D. The dissociation between command following and communication in disorders of consciousness: an fMRI study in healthy subjects. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 2015; 9:493. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00493 link

3. Fernández-Espejo D, Owen AM. Detecting awareness after severe brain injury. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2013;14(11):801-9. pdf

4. Fernández-Espejo D, Soddu A, Cruse D, Palacios EM, Junque C, Vanhaudenhuyse A, Rivas E, Newcombe V, Menon D, Pickard J, Laureys S, Owen A. A role for the default mode network in the structural bases of disorders of consciousness. Annals of Neurology, 2012;72(3):335-43. pdf

5. Fernández-Espejo D, Bekinschtein T, Monti MM, Pickard JD, Junque C, Coleman MR, Owen AM. Diffusion weighted imaging distinguishes the vegetative state from the minimally conscious state. Neuroimage 2011; 54:103-12. pdf

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