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Katherine Niehaus

Trinity College

Current Research

Using Mind Reading to Personalise Treatment in Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder

Psychological traumatic events, such as war or road traffic accidents, are widespread. A small but significant proportion of survivors develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Distressing, sensory-based involuntary memories of trauma (henceforth ‘flashbacks’) are the hallmark symptom of PTSD. This project aims to use functional neuroimaging data, in particular Functional MRI (FMRI) and Magnetoencephalography (MEG), to ‘read the mind’ of an individual, to understand the neural basis of flashback memory formation and recall. This will help us determine: i) from neural response when traumatic film footage is being viewed (i.e. memory encoding), to predict if they will cause subsequent flashbacks; ii) from neural response during the experience of having a flashback (i.e. memory recall), which images from the trauma film are being visualized.

The specific nature of the spatio-temporal features leveraged by the brain decoder will provide new clinical insight into the neurological mechanisms involved in flashbacks. Ultimately, this approach could be used to understand and diagnose different phenotypes, i.e. to determine individual PTSD patients who may be most ‘at risk’ of PTSD after trauma. Intriguingly it could also provide the first objective index of ‘seeing’ another person’s flashbacks to help better target treatment interventions.