Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Oxford
Cross-cutting theme lead: Clinical research infrastructure / experimental medicine
Phone: 01865 618326
I am the director of the Psychopharmacology and Emotional Research Lab (PERL) based at the University of Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry. This forms a multi-disciplinary team and includes graduate research assistants, DPhil students, post-doctoral researchers, Psychiatrists and Pharmacologists.
The research of the group focuses on the psychological mechanisms of antidepressant drug action by exploring drug effects on human models of emotional processing. A range of methodologies are used, including neuropsychological testing, transcranial magnetic stimulation and functional neuroimaging with fMRI and PET in healthy volunteers and patient samples.
This research has the potential to integrate psychological and pharmacological views of depression and treatment and has challenged the way in which we typically consider drug treatment for depression to work. In addition this research has led to the development of human experimental models to explore the effects of established and novel drugs for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Such results therefore have implications both for how we understand antidepressants to work but also in the identification and development of new treatments for depression and anxiety.
I developed the Emotional Test Battery (with Cowen and Goodwin) and worked together with P1Vital (a specialist CRO for mental health) to use this in drug development programmes.
Research focus in experimental medicine models of antidepressant, anxiolytic and mood-stabilising medication and psychological treatments. Examples include:
- Providing the first neuropsychological theory of antidepressant drug action, challenging long accepted views that antidepressants do not have clinically relevant effects until they have been administered over several weeks.
- Providing a well validated cognitive biomarker for prediction of non-response to antidepressant drug treatment, in clinical development with P1vital.
- Developing an experimental medicine model for screening and selection of novel treatments for depression, used by major pharmaceutic companies.
- Showing that psychological interventions have similar effects to those seen with drug treatments, earlier in treatment than expected and predicting clinical benefit.
Recipient of the Society for Biological Psychiatry A.E.Bennett Award 2014; Research Prize from British Association for Psychopharmacology, Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Elected positions on ECNP executive Committee (2016- ), BAP council (2007-2014), Wellcome Trust Expert Review Group (mental health and neuroscience), and Editorial board member of Biological Psychiatry.
View Catherine Harmer’s profile on the Department of Psychiatry website.