The Gillan Lab at Trinity College Dublin uses cognitive neuroscience to better understand, predict and treat mental health problems, tackling issues that are psychiatric, developmental, neurological and associated with advancing age. It is proud to be a part of the new Global Brain Health Institute, and to currently hold funding from Science Foundation Ireland, the European Research Council, the Irish Research Council, the Global Brain Health Institute and MQ mental health.
We aim to understand mental health problems in terms of their underlying biological, psychological, cognitive, environmental and psychosocial mechanisms. That is a lot to consider at once and individual effects sizes are likely teeeny tiny. This has created major problems for research in mental health science. To remedy this, we are working on new methods that can dramatically scale up research in terms of sample sizes and also the breadth of variables we capture from any one person. We do a lot of this using online testing, capturing cognitive and self-report variables in large samples, now and through time. We investigate core cognitive processes like habit formation to reveal mechanisms and try and refine how we conceptualise mental health itself – moving from categorical to dimensional perspectives. Read a write-up about our work in this area in scientific american.
A key goal of the Gillan lab is to identify biomarkers of brain health problems that can be used to predict who will get sick in the future. The hope is that by identifying risk factors, we can intervene earlier, prevent progression to disease or at least keep people healthy for longer. One such project is Neureka, funded by the Global Brain Health Institute. Neureka is a smartphone app that unites citizen scientists around the world who want to contribute to cognitive neuroscience research in brain health. We believe that developing scalable detection tools is crucial for supporting intervention-based research to tackle the rise of dementia worldwide. Download neureka now!
However good our treatments are, be they pharmacological or behavioural, they can only be as effective as the precision with which we can administer them. A key challenge in treating mental health problems is that treatment response is heterogeneous; we typically do not know which individual will respond to which medicine or behavioural therapy. A key goal of the Gillan Lab is to identify cognitive and neural markers of treatment response using baseline measurements in prospective studies. Ongoing work supported by funding from MQ, the Irish Research Council and industry collaborators Silvercloud Health aims to study antidepressant and CBT response using an innovative web-based methodology. Read about this project here, or in the Guardian. If you are a general practitioner who wants to get involved, find out more here.