​​​​​Department of Psychiatry

Research - Available projects

 

How do I apply for these projects?

Please refer to our Research Units webpage for more information regarding our areas of interest and expertise. We kindly request that you approach potential supervisors for additional information about the projects listed here, or if you have ideas for other research projects. Informal queries are also welcome.

 

1. Schizophrenia/psychosis

Read more about the Schizophrenia Research Unit here.


Prolactin levels and their clinical correlates in men and women treated with antipsychotic medication 

Level: Masters/MMed
Supervisors: Prof RA Emsley (rae@sun.ac.za)

 

Effectiveness of group psychotherapy with first-episode psychosis patients

Level: Masters/MMed or PhD
Supervisors: Prof RA Emsley (rae@sun.ac.za)
Description:  The aim of the study is to analyze the effectiveness of group psychotherapy with first-episode psychosis patients by providing psycho-education and psychosocial interventions through therapy groups with young psychotic patients and their families.


Family therapy in first-episode psychosis

Level: Masters/MMed or PhD
Supervisors: Prof RA Emsley (rae@sun.ac.za)
Description:  The aim of the study is to assess the effectiveness of family therapy in first-episode psychosis with respect to certain outcomes like relapse, re-hospitalization and quality of life.


Neuroleptic-induced dysphoric syndrome

Level: Masters/MMed or PhD
Supervisors: Prof RA Emsley (rae@sun.ac.za)
Description:  The aim of the study is to look at the prevalence of neuroleptic-induced dysphoric syndrome and its correlates.


Cognitive endophenotypes in first-episode psychosis patients, twins and siblings

Level: Masters/MMed or PhD
Supervisors: Prof RA Emsley (rae@sun.ac.za)
Description:  The aim of the study is to examine cognitive endophenotypes in non-affected twins and siblings of patients with first-episode psychosis.


Predicting outcome in first-episode schizophrenia

Level:  PhD
Supervisor: Prof R Emsley (rae@sun.ac.za)
Description:  Investigating various clinical, neuro-imaging and genetic factors affecting treatment outcome in a cohort of patients being followed up over several years. Candidates should be either doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists or neuroscientists.

 

2. Anxiety disorders (including obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder)

Endophenotypes of obsessive compulsive disorder, trichotillomania and Parkinson's disorder 

Level: Masters or PhD
Supervisors: Prof C Lochner (cl2@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Read more here and here​
Description: A number of projects 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)

 

Cognitive training in obsessive compulsive disorder

Level: Masters or PhD
Supervisors: Prof C Lochner (cl2@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Read more here and here.
Description: A number of projects are available, including clinical, MRI and App intervention).

 

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: MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Read more here and here.
Description:  The primary study aim includes identifying 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. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

 

Prediction and prevention of PTSD

Level: Masters
Supervisors: Dr S Suliman, Prof S Seedat
Research unit: SARChI Chair in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Read more about this research unit here.
Description: The importance of identifying those who may be at risk of developing PTSD and providing treatment as early as possible has been highlighted in recent years. This prospective study aims to identify whether (i) clinical and trauma-related factors, (ii) neurocognitive performance and (iii) telomere length can predict who will develop PTSD and related disorders following trauma, and whether (ii) a brief internet-based early intervention is successful in reducing the development of PTSD and other disorders in the year following a traumatic event.

 

Anxiety and anxiety disorders in Parkinson's disease

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 aims to compare state and trait anxiety in Parkinson's patients and controls, and determine factors associated with anxiety disorders in Parkinson's disease patients.

 

The association between stress, anxiety and physical activity in mixed-ancestry South Africans

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 aims to determine whether there is a relationship between physical activity and sedentary behaviour and self-perceived stress and anxiety.

 

Physical activity 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 aims to compare physical activity and sedentary behaviour in PTSD patients and controls, and determine if physical activity is associated with PTSD severity.


3. Addictions

Compulsivity/impulsivity in methamphetamine use disorder and gambling disorder

Level: Masters
Supervisors: Prof C Lochner (cl2@sun.ac.za )
Research unit: MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Read more here and here.
Description: A number of projects are available.

 

Problematic internet use disorder

Level: Masters 
Supervisors: Prof C Lochner (cl2@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Read more here and here.
Description: A number of projects are available.

 

4. Effects of drug and alcohol exposure

Alcohol and methamphetamine exposure effects in infants: MRI, DTI, MRS and neurodevelopmental correlates

Level: Masters
Supervisors: Dr A Roos (aroos@sun.ac.za )
Research unit: MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Read more here and here.
Description:  This study aims to assess the effects of maternal substance use on infant neuronal integrity.

 

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), Professor 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.

 

Trajectory of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder across the lifespan

Level: Masters/MMed or PhD
Supervisors: Prof S Seedat (sseedat@su n.ac.za), Prof C Parry (cparry@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: FASER-SA. Read more about this research unit here.
Description: A number of projects are available including:

  • Early intervention/remediation research, via random assignment, case control studies, on development through nutritional and cognitive/behavioral enhancement techniques for children with FASD from 24 months of age forward. 
  • An efficacy study of biomarkers for alcohol consumption.
  • A detailed longitudinal study of the physical and cognitive/behavioral developmental trajectory of children from the newborn period to seven years of age. 
  • Study the nutrition of pregnant women.

5. Student health and wellness

Student health and wellness: a longitudinal multi-site international collaboration 

Level: Masters
Supervisors: Prof C Lochner (cl2@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: MRC Unit on Risk and Resilience in Mental Disorders. Read more here and here​​.
Description: A number of projects are available.

 

6. Neurocognitive effects of HIV and trauma

Biological endophytes of HIV and childhood trauma: A genetics, cognitive and imaging study

Level: Masters or PhD
Supervisors: Prof S Seedat (sseedat@su n.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 data exist. 

 

Establishing South African norms for a brief neurocognitive battery (HNRC International Battery) in HIV-infected adults

Level: MA (Psychology) or PhD
Supervisors: Prof S Seedat (sseedat@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: SARChI Chair in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Read more about this research unit here.
Description: The range of neuropsychological deficits in HIV infection includes impaired executive functioning, motor skills, speed of information processing, and learning, with intact memory retention, most language skills, and visuospatial functioning. This study will seek to validate a screening battery for detecting HIV-related neuropsychological (NP) impairment. The proposed neuropsychological test battery to be used is one developed by the HIV Neurobehavioral Research Centre at the University of California San Diego, which has been adapted for use in international settings and which appears to have good cross-cultural equivalence.

 

Neurocognitive deficits in HIV-infected adolescents: Relationship to trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and antiretroviral adherence or investigation

Level: Masters/MMed or PhD
Supervisors: Prof S Seedat (sseedat@sun.ac.za)
Research unit: SARChI Chair in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Read more about this research unit here.
Description: HIV infected children and adolescents are at high risk for developing neurologic, neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric impairments. Neurocognitive and neuropsychiatric impairments can influence adherence to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). However, this has not been characterized in South African adolescents where the clade C subtype predominates and where there is some evidence to suggest that the neurovirulence of clade C may be less than that of the other clades.  This prospective study will investigate the neurocognitive and neuropsychiatric profile of HIV-infected adolescents in the context of adherence to ARVs

 

7. Child and adolescent psychiatry

​Barriers to access in a tertiary child and adolescent psychiatry outpatient service

Level: Masters/MMed
Supervisors: Dr S Hawkridge (asmh@sun.ac.za)

 

Outcomes in a sample of children and adolescents referred to general specialist community health services

Level: Masters/MMed
Supervisors: Dr S Hawkridge (asmh@sun.ac.za)

 

Child and adolescent access to mental health services and appropriate care

Level: Masters, MMEd
Supervisors: Prof S Seedat, Dr S Suliman, Dr L van den Heuvel
Research unit: The MEGA project. Read more about this project here.
Description: The main goal of this project is to improve child and adolescent access to mental health services and appropriate care, by developing a mental health screening tool to be used in primary health care (PHC) settings in South Africa, Zambia and other Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. These goals will be achieved by a four-phase implementation plan. Phase one will investigate the mental health literacy of PHC practitioners to identify areas in need of development. A mobile health (m-health) application to screen for common child and adolescent mental health problems will be tested in Phase two. In phase three a tiered education and training program in the use of the m-health application and related mental health content will be implemented and evaluated. In the final phase the acceptability and feasibility of the m-health application in PHC centres at sites across South Africa and Zambia will be evaluated.​