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PhD Studentship: A Deep Dive into Brain Plasticity Through Advanced MRI Techniques

Cardiff University

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Cardiff
Funding for: UK Students
Funding amount: £18,662 p.a.
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 22nd December 2023
Closes: 1st March 2024

Previous neuroimaging studies have provided intriguing glimpses into brain plasticity1-6. However, they often grappled with limitations related to spatial resolution and microstructural specificity. For example, grey matter studies frequently relied on markers like cortical thickness, while white matter studies employed diffusion tensor imaging, which describes water's movement within brain tissue without pinpointing specific microstructural components like axons or myelin. These methods have failed to offer a comprehensive understanding of the underlying changes in brain tissue. Hence, there is a pressing need for a novel approach that combines high spatial resolution with microstructural specificity. 

This project stands at the forefront of neuroimaging research, utilizing cutting-edge technology to explore the brain's response to training interventions. The project seeks to reveal the neural foundations of brain plasticity by scrutinizing changes in both tissue macrostructure and microstructure in extraordinary detail, and to uncover how these changes relate to differences in wayfinding behaviour.

The project's initial part has three critical phases:

  1. Initial Response: After 2 hours of intensive route-learning, what is the immediate impact on the brain?
  2. Extended Training: Following 4 weeks of continuous training, we will delve into how the brain adapts over an extended period.
  3. Long-term Changes: After an additional 4 weeks, we will explore whether the brain's adaptations endure, shedding light on the lasting effects of training.

This project opens an opportunity to deepen our understanding brain plasticity and the pathways involved in wayfinding in the context of neurological compromise. The primary results will inform this stage, but we have allocated resources to pilot route-learning training with longitudinal imaging (pre- and post-training) in a clinical cohort. Alternatively, administration of cognitive (including wayfinding) tasks and advanced imaging at a single timepoint would allow for investigation of specific brain pathways associated with individual differences across types of wayfinding. This would involve spending time within clinical services and working alongside clinicians to facilitate recruitment and data collection. This expansion into the clinical realm unlocks new possibilities for translating our findings into practical applications and addressing real-world challenges.

Home students are UK Nationals and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements (students must have been in the UK for >3 years before start of course). Only a limited number of studentships are available across the Open School competition and a high standard of applications are received, the successful applicants are likely to have a very good first degree (a First or Upper Second class BSc Honours or equivalent) and/or be distinguished by having relevant research experience.

Studentships are awarded on a competitive basis in competition with other projects in the Open School competition. The studentship commences in October 2024, covers 3 years tuition fees and maintenance, with submission deadline of 4 years. The 2023/4 full-time maintenance grant was £18,662 p.a. Psychology students receive conference and participant money (~£2,250), computer, office space, access to courses and become members of the Doctoral Academy. Please select most appropriate advert for your Research and specify that you’re applying for this project and supervisor.

For any queries about this studentship, please contact the supervisor by email - Derek Jones JonesD27@cardiff.ac.uk.

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