In 2016, I completed an undergraduate degree in Science, majoring in Biology and Behavioural Science. During my Behavioural Science major, I had the opportunity to undertake neuropsychology, which sparked my interest in the neurobiological underpinnings of mental health disorders.
Following this, I began my research career as a research assistant at the Sunshine Coast Mind and Neuroscience -Thompson Institute, where I have had the privilege to be been involved in a wide range of projects including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in refugee populations, youth mental health, and clinical trial programs. At the end of 2018, I completed my honours project, which explored amygdala and hippocampal structural alterations as a result of trauma and associated with PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a highly debilitating psychiatric disorder which causes significant impairment in one’s social, cognitive and occupational functioning. Individuals with PTSD often present with varied symptoms, ranging from disinterested and distant, to impulsive and self-destructive with many also suffering from comorbidities of anxiety, depression and suicidality, leading to an overall diminished quality of life. At present, psychotherapies (i.e. cognitive behavioural therapies) and pharmacotherapies (i.e. antidepressants) are considered first-line treatments for PTSD, despite conflicting evidence surrounding their efficacy.
Recently, the well-known general anaesthetic, ketamine, has received attention as a possible novel pharmacologic agent for PTSD. Evidence has shown ketamine to be highly effective and quick acting in individuals with bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation and treatment resistant depression, however, very little research has been conducted into its effects on PTSD. Ketamine is an NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor antagonist, which blocks the effects of excitatory glutamate signalling in the central nervous system. Recent studies have linked glutamatergic neurotransmission, via NMDA, to PTSD pathophysiology. NDMA receptors are known to play a critical role in the synaptic plasticity underlying cognition, learning and memory; which are areas of severe impairment in PTSD.
The primary aim of this project is to examine the effectiveness of oral ketamine in reducing the severity of PTSD symptomology. This project also aims to explore the neurobiological changes, through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) scanning, which are associated with oral ketamine use in adult participants who experience PTSD.
Supervisors: Professor Jim Lagopoulos & Larisa McLoughlin