Mairi new

Mairi Houlgreave

PhD Student

Precision Imaging Beacon


Mairi has a background in neuroscience and is undertaking a PhD within the Precision Imaging Beacon of Excellence. Her project involves combining brain imaging and brain stimulation to deliver novel therapies for brain health conditions.


How would you explain your research?

My research project involves the use of multimodal imaging and neuromodulation techniques to understand the dysfunctional brain networks involved in neuropsychiatric disorders. This knowledge will inform the development of a therapeutic technique which will stimulate targeted networks in order to restore the balance between excitation and inhibition.

The main focus of this research will be on Tourette syndrome and the use of non-invasive brain stimulation to induce compensatory plastic changes with the aim of significantly reducing motor tics. I will also use a variety of neuroimaging techniques to investigate the brain activity associated with tics and the urge to tic.

Why Nottingham and why the Precision Imaging Beacon?

I applied to the Precision Imaging Beacon’s PhD programme due to my interest in both structural and functional neuroimaging and the network differences involved in neurological disorders. Due to the facilities available at Nottingham, I have had the opportunity to use a number of imaging techniques during my research.  Furthermore, the projects on offer from the Beacon are interdisciplinary, which means that my research will benefit from the guidance of supervisors with different skills and perspectives.

What inspired you to pursue this area?

I have always been interested in pursuing a career in biological sciences, and as I got older this focused on how the brain works and how this differs in neurological disorders. Neuroimaging allows you to non-invasively investigate how the brain as a system is functioning. This inspired me to pursue a degree in neuroscience, before focusing on the area of neuroimaging.

The interdisciplinary nature of this PhD is important for more precise imaging, particularly for disorders like Tourette’s where it is difficult to scan patients

How will your research affect the average person?

Current treatments for neurological disorders are largely pharmacological and are associated with unpleasant side effects. We aim to develop a therapy using non-invasive stimulation that is precise, safe and portable - using this we will hopefully be able to help patients with severe tics. Due to the stimulation focusing on the motor system we should be able to minimise side effects, and by being portable it may mean that patients won’t have to attend a clinic for treatment. Furthermore, non-invasive stimulation techniques have the potential to be adapted for therapy in a number of neurological disorders.

What’s been the greatest moment of your career so far?

I particularly enjoyed my transition into a more interdisciplinary area during my MSc in Computational Neuroscience, where I began to learn about neuroimaging, coding and more advanced ways to analyse data. This theme has continued throughout the first year of my PhD, where I am building on this knowledge to use in my research.

How will being based at UoN and joining Precision Imaging help you achieve your goals?

Being part of the Precision Imaging Beacon means that my work will be guided by academics who specialise in neurological disorders and those who specialise in neuroimaging and the development of new imaging techniques. The interdisciplinary nature of this PhD is important for more precise imaging, particularly for disorders like Tourette’s where it is difficult to scan patients due to their motor tics which are difficult to suppress.

What aspects of your research and role are you looking forward to?

I am looking forward to learning how to use a variety of neuroimaging techniques and sophisticated approaches to analysis. Different imaging techniques have different strengths, such as the high spatial resolution in magnetic resonance imaging and high temporal resolution in magnetoencephalography. Therefore, by collecting data using several different modalities, we will develop a better understanding of the underlying pathology.

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