Psychiatry
Welcome to Stellenbosch University

Department of Psychiatry

​Imaging in Neuroscience Workgroup


​​​Available IMAGINE projects 


How do I apply for these projects?

Please contact the listed supervisors for additional information about the projects listed here.


VR and substance use in schizophrenia

Level: Masters
Supervisors: F Scheffler (fredas@sun.ac.za), Prof L Weich (lizew@sun.ac.za), Dr. S du Plessis (stefandup@sun.ac.za)


Investigating the evolution of modularity in neural networks

Level: Masters
Supervisors: Prof D van den Heever (dawie@sun.ac.za), Dr. S du Plessis (stefandup@sun.ac.za)


Investigating the role of functional dopamine- and serotonin-related genetic variants in reward and affective processing, respectively

Level: Masters
Supervisors: Dr. S du Plessis (stefandup@sun.ac.za) Prof S Hemmings (smjh@sun.ac.za), Dr. P Swart (patswart@sun.ac.za), Dr. J Womersley (jsw1@sun.ac.za)


Utilizing virtual reality as a therapeutic tool in Psychiatry

Level: Masters
Supervisors: Prof D van den Heever (dawie@sun.ac.za), Dr. D Rosenstein


Measuring physiological responses associated with social stress in a virtual environment and its relationship with childhood trauma in early schizophrenia: a pilot study

Level:  Masters/MMed
Supervisor: Dr. S du Plessis (stefandup@sun.ac.za)


Metabolomic syndrome risk factor associations with clinical, functional, and cognitive outcomes and underlying cerebral white matter connectivity during the first year of treatment in schizophrenia spectrum disorders

Level:  PhD
Supervisor: Prof RA Emsley (rae@sun.ac.za), Dr. S du Plessis (stefandup@sun.ac.za)


Associations between childhood maltreatment and brain structure, function, and network architecture in apparently healthy adults

Level:  PhD
Supervisor: Dr. S du Plessis (stefandup@sun.ac.za), Prof RA Emsley (rae@sun.ac.za), Prof S Seedat (sseedat@sun.ac.za)


Imaging-Epigenetics study of anxiety sensitivity in adolescents

Level: Masters
Supervisors: Prof S Seedat (sseedat@sun.ac.za), Prof S Hemmings (smjh@sun.ac.za), Dr. J Womersley (jsw1@sun.ac.za)
Research Unit: SARChI Chair in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Read more about this research unit here.

Description: Anxiety sensitivity is a dispositional characteristic that has been established as a cognitive risk factor for the development of anxiety (e.g., panic and posttraumatic stress disorder) and mood disorders. Anxiety sensitivity is subject to genetic and experiential influences.  Investigating adolescents with anxiety proneness ± early developmental trauma provides a unique opportunity to examine the interaction of epigenetics with structural brain deficits that may be important for mediating increased levels of anxiety and may help in our understanding of the processes responsible for the development of anxiety disorders. This secondary data neuroimaging (epi)genetics study of anxiety sensitivity will combine structural MRI and DNA methylation data in a sample of adolescent participants. It is anticipated that the paper will focus on methylation of the NPSR1 gene.​


Genetics of Anxiety Disorders

Level: Masters or PhD
Supervisors: Prof C Lochner (cl2@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: SA MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Read more here and here
Description: This study aims to understand the genetic causes and symptoms of anxiety disorders (including obsessive-compulsive and spectrum disorders such as hair-pulling disorder or trichotillomania (TTM), panic or social anxiety disorder).

Please address specific enquiries to Prof Lochner.​


Delineating endophenotypes of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), hair-pulling disorder (HPD; trichotillomania) and Parkinson's Disease: An integrated clinical, neurocognitive, genetic, and imaging study

Level: Masters or PhD
Supervisors: Prof C Lochner (cl2@sun.ac.za), Prof D J Stein (dan.stein@uct.ac.za)
Research unit: SA MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Read more here and here.
Description: This study aims to investigate the role of polymorphisms in specific candidate genes in accounting for variance in imaging and cognitive-affective data, and to assess the differences between groups in terms of performance of behavioural tasks.

A number of sub-studies are available, including:

  • Sociodemographic and clinical characteristics associated with increased severity of illness in OCD patients.
  • Symptom dimensions, smoking and impulsiveness in OCD.
  • Telomere length (and correlates) in OCD / trichotillomania.
  • Childhood trauma and suicidal ideation and the link to the different symptom dimensions in OCD.
  • Comparison of OCD with vs without BFRBs (body-focused repetitive behaviours).
  • Spectroscopy: OCD vs. controls; HPD vs. controls.
  • Structural and fMRI based investigations: OCD, HPD.

Please address specific enquiries to Profs Lochner and Stein.


Identifying reproducible brain signatures of obsessive-compulsive profiles

Level: Masters or PhD
Supervisors: Prof C Lochner (cl2@sun.ac.za), Prof D J Stein (dan.stein@uct.ac.za)
Research unit: SA MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Read more here and here.
Description: This study aims to identify reproducible neuroimaging signatures that distinguish those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) from other conditions and healthy controls. This is a multi-site project with 5 sites including South Africa, Brazil, India, the Netherlands and the United States of America.

A sub-study is available that includes:

Sertraline treatment trial over 12 weeks with naturalistic follow-up for 12 months, with MRI pre- and post-treatment.

Please address specific enquiries to Profs Lochner and Stein.


Social cognition in social anxiety disorder: Correlates with functional connectivity and neuropsychological measures

Level: Masters
Supervisors: Prof C Lochner (cl2@sun.ac.za), Prof D J Stein (dan.stein@uct.ac.za)
Research unit: SA MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Read more here and here.
Description: ​Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a common psychiatric condition characterized by exaggerated fear of public scrutiny and social interactions which severely impacts the functioning of those affected. This study (of which data collection has stopped) aims to investigate the underlying biology (including genetics, neurotransmitter systems and systems neuroscience) of SAD with the objective that such research will better explain pathophysiology and better direct treatment strategies. Data are available for analysis.

Please address specific enquiries to Profs Lochner and Stein.​


​The impact of hair glucocorticoid levels and cytokines on the reward system

Level: Masters/MMed
Supervisors: Dr. Stefan du Plessis (stefandup@sun.ac.za​)
Research unit: The Shared Roots of Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Cardiovascular Disease Project. Read more about this research unit here​.
Description: This project will involve secondary data analysis using data obtained in the SHARED ROOTS study to evaluate the interaction between neuroendocrine and immune pathways in the function of the reward system.

 

Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis related genes and hair glucocorticoid levels in PTSD

Level: Masters/MMed
Supervisors: Dr. Leigh van den Heuvel (llvdh@sun.ac.za​)
Research unit: The Shared Roots of Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Cardiovascular Disease Project. Read more about this research unit here​.
Description: This project will involve secondary data analysis using data obtained in the SHARED ROOTS study to evaluate the interaction between HPA-axis related genetic variants and hair neuroendocrine levels in PTSD.


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor genes and plasma levels in PTSD

Level: Masters/MMed
Supervisors: Dr. Leigh van den Heuvel (​llvdh@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: The Shared Roots of Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Cardiovascular Disease Project. Read more about this research unit here​.
Description: This project will involve secondary data and sample analysis using data and samples obtained in the SHARED ROOTS study to evaluate BDNF genes and plasma levels in PTSD.


Smoking, cognition, and neuroimaging

Level: Masters/MMed
Supervisors: Dr. Freda Scheffler (fredas@sun.ac.za), Dr. Stefan du Plessis (stefandup@sun.ac.za), Dr. Sharain Suliman (sharain@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: The Shared Roots of Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Cardiovascular Disease Project. Read more about this research unit here.
Description: This project will involve secondary data and sample analysis using data and samples obtained in the SHARED ROOTS study to evaluate the relationship between smoking, cognition and neuroimaging findings.​


Childhood trauma, cortical thickness, and neurocognitive difficulties in healthy controls

Level: Masters/MMed
Supervisors: Dr. Sanja Kilian (sanjakilian83@gmail.com), Dr. Sharain Suliman (sharain@sun.ac.za)​
Research unit: The Shared Roots of Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Cardiovascular Disease Project. Read more about this research unit here.
Description: This project will involve secondary data and sample analysis using data and samples obtained in the SHARED ROOTS study to evaluate the association between childhood trauma, cortical thickness and neurocognitive difficulties in healthy controls.


Compulsivity/impulsivity in methamphetamine use disorder and gambling disorder 

Level: Masters
Supervisors: Prof C Lochner (cl2@sun.ac.za)
Description: Data collection has stopped; clinical, genetics and MRI data are available for analysis.


Effects of alcohol abuse on the brain in the context of earlier ART-initiation among HIV positive individuals in the Western Cape, South Africa

Level: Masters or PhD
Supervisors: Dr. G Spies (ggiocos@sun.ac.za), Prof S Seedat (sseedat@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: SARChI Chair in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Read more about this research unit here.
Description: This study aims to understand the impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART) on brain degeneration in the context of high alcohol use by allowing comparison of ART initiation at different CD4 thresholds, and tracking this impact over time. The sample consists of both early and late ART initiators, with and without an alcohol use disorder. All participants undergo neuromedical, neuropsychological, and neuroimaging assessments at baseline and at follow-up.


Biologica​l endophytes of HIV and childhood trauma: A genetics, cognitive and imaging study

Level: Masters or PhD
Supervisors: Prof S Seedat (sseedat@sun.ac.za), Dr. G Spies (ggiocos@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: SARChI Chair in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Read more about this research unit here.
Description:  This study aims to investigate genetics, cognitive and imaging outcomes in South African women living with HIV and childhood trauma. A rich dataset has already been established, with 5-year follow-up assessments in continuation. Opportunities to work with existing neurocognitive and neuroimaging datasets.​


​Cognitive deficits in PWH with post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV2 infection

Level: Masters/MMed
Supervisors: Dr. G Spies (ggiocos@sun.ac.za), Prof S Seedat (sseedat@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: SARChI Chair in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Read more about this research unit here.
Description:  This pilot study will focus on the investigation of the dual impact of HIV infection and post-acute sequelae (PASC) of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2 infection) on neurocognitive and psychiatric outcomes in South African adults. The specific aim of the proposed study is to investigate the longitudinal effects of HIV infection and post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection on cognitive functioning and psychiatric morbidity. Initial goals will be to replicate neurocognitive abnormalities previously reported in the single-risk group, and to look for evidence of interaction in individuals who are both HIV+ and COVID-19 survivors with PASC.


Cross-cultural Neuroscience and Neuroethics in Africa

​​​Level: Masters
Supervisors: Dr. O Matshabane (matshabaneo@sun.ac.za), Prof S Seedat (sseedat@sun.ac.za)
Description: