EUSARNAD at the British Association for Psychopharmacology Summer Meeting 2014 – 40th Birthday! — By Verity Pinkney

This summer the British Association for Psychopharmacology (or BAP) celebrated its 40th birthday which was recognised by a special return to Cambridge, UK for the annual summer meeting.

The aims of the BAP are two-fold; firstly to support research that investigates “the biological basis of brain and behaviour and its alterations in psychiatric disorders” whilst also encouraging the study of new and existing pharmacological and psychological treatments that can be used to alleviate them. These aims align nicely with those of EUSARNAD where our research attempts to understand both the mechanisms that underlie anxiety disorders through studies of the brain (by for example utilising imaging techniques – Nienke) and behaviour (often by using computerised tasks to examine subtle indices of anxiety such as attention to threat), whilst also examining how current (e.g. pharmacotherapy – myself and Susie, mindfulness – Ben), and novel treatments (e.g. tDCS – Jo and Dan) may provide relief from the symptoms of anxiety.

This year, all attendees enjoyed the hospitality of Robinson College with both professors and students alike staying on-site in their modest dorms and breakfasting together in the canteen, which greatly encouraged some morning networking over a coffee.

Cambridge is a great place for a conference - it manages to be a unique blend of relaxing, yet motivating!

Cambridge is a great place for a conference – it manages to be a unique blend of relaxing, yet motivating!

On both Monday and Tuesday an excellent array of posters were presented over lunch. Our modest department in Southampton put an impressive 9 academic posters on show this year covering a range of topics from the effects of mindfulness on the perception of emotional faces (Ben), to the early effects of the anti-anxiety drug duloxetine on mood and face processing (Dr Susie Bamford and myself). This really gave us an opportunity to “touch base” with one another’s work in our own department as well as share our findings with an attentive audience.

Our very own Dr Ruihua Hou also gave a stimulating talk this year on “a preliminary investigation of associations between attentional control and neuroinflammation” in the short orals session. She summarised some exciting associations that her team have found between anxiety, specific inflammatory markers and problems controlling attention, which, although preliminary, indicates the need for further investigation of drugs that target inflammation in the treatment of anxiety disorders – an important consideration for many EUSARNAD researchers.

BAP Conference Poster Session - Image from official BAP photos -

BAP Conference Poster Session – Image from official BAP photos –

The highlight of this year’s conference for me was the guest lecture entitled “40 years of BAP – a lifetime of psychopharmacology” by well-known Professor David Nutt, past president of the BAP and current Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Psychopharmacology. David gave us a whistle-stop tour of the past 40 years of the BAP reflecting on both successes, such as the use of imaging techniques to extend our knowledge of neurotransmission (with particular reference to dopamine) and improved safety of antidepressants; and also failures, where he focused heavily on the withdrawal of funding from pharmaceutical companies and our apparent inability to predict which novel compounds will be effective in clinical trials.

He wrapped up his talk by challenging the audience to overcome the current adversities in psychiatry together, perhaps by accepting and adopting new statistical techniques and novel methodologies to perform good science, by building strong multidisciplinary collaborations to share new discoveries and provide different perspectives, and by helping the public/private sector see why it is necessary to invest in neuroscience research. This point really highlights the importance of organisations such as EUSARNAD that encourage researchers to build strong links with like-minded researchers across the world, and this can often be best achieved through the promotion of their work at meetings like BAP.

As a young researcher, I am in an exciting position to be lucky enough to see how the BAP (and mental health research more broadly) will evolve over the next 40 years. Let’s hope the scientific community work together to produce more successes and fewer challenges in the years to come. Thanks to the organising committee for a great conference – we all look forward to travelling to Bristol in 2015!

–          Verity

The Mechanisms of Menace – visiting a Southampton anxiety conference (by Nienke Pannekoek and Ben Ainsworth).

On the 2nd September, we (that’s Ben and Nien) were lucky enough to join national and international investigators at ‘The Mechanisms of Menace’ conference to discuss recent advances in anxiety research.

Prof. David Baldwin and Dr. Matt Garner, both from the University of Southampton, organised an energetic one-day conference on anxiety that offered students, professors and clinicians from various fields of expertise the opportunity to share their experiences with colleagues, students and interested (/lost) bystanders.

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Professor David Baldwin delivered an interesting and important talk from the academic psychiatrist*s perspective – about the recent changes to BAP guidelines, and how they might affect anxiety treatment/research

Professor Graham Davey from the University of Sussex kicked things off with an insightful assessment of the current state of affairs in anxiety research. While dancing around a self-professed proneness to ranting, a lot of what Professor Davey said was really in tune with the aims of EUSARNAD as a whole: while a lot of people with anxiety might only meet clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, there is a huge amount of research necessary to inform effective treatments – and it’s vital that clinicians and researchers learn from and inform each other effectively in order to develop and improve anxiety interventions.

This point was emphasized when Dr. Julie Hadwin spoke about her research looking at how improvements to basic cognitive processes (like working memory) could help adolescents with anxiety, and the morning session was rounded off by Dr. Lusia Stopa (Uni. Southampton) spoke about her research as a clinical psychologist, looking at how self-imagery could be used to improve social anxiety – exciting evidence of how laboratory experiments can have real world implications.


EUSARNAD member Nienke Pannekoek fielding questions on her work in the fields of comorbid anxiety and depression

Either side of lunch, a number of short, punchy talks explored the mechanisms of anxiety and anxiety interventions. Dr. Kate Button (Bristol University), Maria Ironside (Oxford Uni.), Dr. Ruihua Hou (Uni. Southampton), Michael Breen (Uni. Southampton), Annette Bruhl (Uni. Cambridge) and Nienke Pannekoek (Leiden Uni.) presented some really exciting work that used an amazing range of methodologies: from novel computer tasks to explore maladaptive cognitive processes in anxiety and using electrodes to stimulate specific brain regions [tDCS] to measuring cytokines and genetic predictors of psychopathology.

What was most striking was how all of the different presentations – each requiring a totally different expertise from the researchers! – fit together to help form a coherent understanding of anxiety. Dr. Sam Chamberlain (Uni. Cambridge) kept everyone interested after lunch discussing predictors of OCD.

The day finished with three talks that highlighted the themes of information sharing and  collaboration – Dr. Matt Garner showcased the work that his group have been doing developing a new human-model of anxiety before Professor David Baldwin informed everybody about the changes that the British Association of Psychopharmacology had made to their guidelines for treating anxiety disorders. Lastly, Professor Elaine Fox (Oxford Uni.) gave an entertaining talk on the research she’s been leading investigating cognitive and genetic predictors of anxiety, and whether we can use these predictors to inform anxiety interventions.

Present throughout the day was Amo Kalar from AnxietyUK, a charity that works to support those with anxiety. Amo emphasised that in order to keep helping anxiety, collaboration must be used in conjunction with effective publicity; very much in line with EUSARNAD’s goals. He also had the honour of giving away awards for the two most outstanding posters of the day, by Denise Meuldijk (Leiden University, The Netherlands) and Kiri Granger (Uni. Nottingham).

The conference was a great success and after the day, both of us left feeling extremely motivated. It’s always the sign of a good conference when you leave with new energy, new ideas, new respect for other’s work, and lots of inspiration. It is exciting to see what the future will bring in the joint effort to target the menace of anxiety.

Ben and Nien

Beyond the academic sphere: A European Perspective – by Ben Ainsworth

Earlier this week, I was invited to meet some local politicians to discuss the research that we are doing through EUSARNAD, along with Professor David Baldwin. It’s always interesting to be asked to discuss my research with people who are outside the usual ‘catchment area’ (which normally consists of other researchers in the mental health field, and those unlucky enough to be cornered in the kitchen at parties), and I jumped at the chance to talk to Catherine Bearder and Jackie Porter about our recent efforts in anxiety research.

Professor Baldwin, Catherine Bearder and I were able to have a good discussion about the contributions the EU has made to funding psychiatric research

Professor Baldwin, Catherine Bearder and I were able to have a good discussion about the contributions the EU has made to funding psychiatric research

Catherine is a Member of the European Parliament for the South East England, and Jackie is a prospective MP for Winchester and Chandler’s Ford – for those of you who aren’t entirely familiar with British geography, both represent people between London and Southampton, and were genuinely interested in the ways that EUSARNAD researchers are trying to improve and inform mental health care.

After telling Catherine and Jackie about my personal experience of spending time at the Cape Universities Brain Imaging Unit in South Africa, we discussed the importance of the scheme in terms of both ‘tooling up’ researchers who want to expand their horizons into new research methodologies and encouraging the collaboration and networking between young researchers that’s very likely to form foundations for the important research of the future. Being involved in the European Parliament, Catherine was understandably pleased when we spoke about the subsequent collaborative research I completed at the Leiden University Medical Centre (which came about off some informal discussions I had on the very first day of my EUSARNAD programme trip to Cape Town!).


Jackie Porter, Alarcos Cieza, David Baldwin and Catherine Bearder are clearly all much more adept at smiling for the camera than me!

We were also joined in the meeting by Professor Alarcos Cieza, who spoke about the MARATONE project (that’s “Mental Health Training Through Research Network in Europe”). MARATONE is an exciting research project that builds on the idea of ‘horizontal epidemiology’ – basically, the idea that we can study symptoms that are common to more than one mental health disorder as important psycho-social factors in themselves, rather than studying them individually under the label of a specific mental disorder. MARATONE also provides opportunities for junior researchers, and similar to EUSARNAD recognises the need for high-level training and collaborative efforts across multiple institutions. It’s an important and worthy cause, and is clearly something that Professor Cieza is very passionate about.

In psychiatric science, you can sometimes forget that the research we are doing is for the benefit of patients  (in my case, patients with anxiety) and will eventually help them to access better psychiatric treatment. In order to do that, the research has to go beyond the academic sphere, and it’s certainly very encouraging to know that Jackie Porter and Catherine Bearder are taking an interest.

– Ben

EUSARNAD exchange in Southampton – reminiscing from the sleep lab, by Gosia Lipinska

I can’t believe it’s a whole week since I’ve been back in Cape Town. And I’m back in the sleep lab, watching the EEG of my sleeping participant as I reminisce about my exchange at the University of Southampton. Since I’ve been back I’ve been able to apply many things I’ve learnt already – especially related to the sleep lab. The exchange was a fantastic experience in acquiring international experience in the field of sleep research.

In terms of applying my newly acquired sleep research knowledge, I spent today adjusting my entire montage to represent a configuration that is more commonly accepted world-wide. A polysomnographic montage is the unique configuration of electrodes that makes up the EEG reading that you see on the screen. Because the technicians who set up our configuration were not sleep researchers and our team was too green in the field to know any better, our set-up was not optimal for our purposes.


Working at my computer!

I’m also in the processes of applying for an equipment grant so that we can update the kind of electrodes we use, as well as the method of attaching the electrodes. Currently we use a potent glue called collodian, which is pretty much amazing at keeping the electrodes stuck to the head. However it has some pitfalls – it’s very strong smelling, hard to apply and time consuming to remove. There are better products on the market, as I now know, and I’ve located a supplier in Cape Town.

I’ve also come back with lots of clinical knowledge, which will be immensely helpful when I start seeing patients again. I’m also really excited about working on the collaborations I built up during my time – I’m busy selecting articles from a large data base to be included in a Cochrane review of anti-depressant treatment for insomnia. I’m also writing a conceptual short article for the Journal of Human Psychopharmacology examining the treatment of sleep difficulties in posttraumatic stress disorder, collaborating with Cathy Hill on a sleep and high-altitude study and working out the details of future studies with a genetics researcher with an interest in psychiatric disorders. In summary, many papers and future projects to look forward to!


In front of College Keep, where I spent a good deal of time.

Many many thanks to Professor David Baldwin for facilitating this exchange and having me sit in on his outpatients clinic; to the administrative staff, especially Magda Nowak who worked out all the details; to Dr Cathy Hill, Michael Breen and Dr Topher Woelk and Dr Hazel Everitt for including me in their interesting projects; to Dr Jonathan Dakin and Dr Lars Hansen for including me in their clinics and to Sue Johnstone for hosting me!

With Sue, just before I left in a rare moment of sunshine

With Sue, just before I left in a rare moment of sunshine

And lastly may the sun shine in England again!