Drug Addiction Research

The Drug Addiction Research group is run by Dr Karen Ersche. Here, you can find out more details about her work, and members of her group.

Dr Karen Ersche, Senior Research Associate, Group Leader

I am interested in the effect of chronic drug use on brain function and the question how occasional drug use turns into addiction in some people.  My aim is to better understand what renders some people vulnerable for developing dependence whilst others remain resilient to the addictive effects of drugs. My research therefore aims to elucidate the neurobiological substrates of vulnerability and resilience for drug dependence. I hope that this knowledge will help to develop more efficient strategies for the prevention and treatment of addiction. An ancillary interest of mine is to develop new tools to better assess and evaluate individual- or time-sensitive variations in drug abuse.

A secondary research aim is to understand the effects of class A drugs on general health, wellbeing and on processes such as ageing. I believe that a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms involved in drug addiction will provide a solid basis for the development of efficient therapeutic interventions whilst helping reducing the widespread stigma attached to people who have become dependent on drugs.


Mrs. Abigail Turton, Research Assistant

I am a Research Assistant working with Dr Karen Ersche on several projects including the addiction endophenotype project, which investigates genetic vulnerability for drug dependence. I am also working on the ICCAM study, which is a multicentre pharmacological neuroimaging study that evaluates the potential of new drugs to help prevent alcohol, cocaine and heroin relapse.

I have also been involved in the validation of a novel questionnaire for the assessment of control beliefs in drug-related situations, the DR-LOC. This new self-report scale is based on Rotter’s Locus of Control scale, but deliberately avoids the use of personalized items, which makes it suitable for both drug using and non-drug using individuals.


Ms. Claire Whitelock, Research Assistant

I am working on several projects that address different type of needs in drug-dependent people. In one project, we aim to elucidate factors that contribute to drug users’ common difficulties with tasks that require sustained attention and memory capacity, which  in the long run, worsen their health and psychosocial functioning. We are exploring new avenues in ameliorating drug users’ cognitive performance, general health and well-being.

As part of the ICCAM study team, I am assessing cognitive function in individuals recovering from drug dependency using neurocognitive tests and neuroimaging techniques. We aim to identify markers in brain and behaviour that are associated with a successful recovery from addiction.


Ms. Jean Arlt, Research Assistant

I am supporting Dr Karen Ersche with the organisation of several experimental medicine studies, which explore new treatments for people with severe drug dependency.  In these studies we use licensed medication, which have been used in clinical practise for many years in the context of addiction to evaluate their potential to prevent relapse. I am also involved in the planning of new studies of the Addiction Research Group.



  Mr Simon Jones, Data Analyst

I am a graduate of physics with an MSc in Computer Science. I analyse brain images from PET, CT, MR and fMRI scans using a variety of software packages. As part of the addiction endophenotype study, I have been involved in the analysis of both structural and functional brain images of drug-dependent individuals, their unaffected siblings, unrelated recreational cocaine users and non-drug using control volunteers. I have also been involved in the analysis of age-related effects in cocaine dependence.


Ms. Rania Christoforou, Research Student

I am a student in Psychology, supervised by Dr Karen Ersche, working on the multicentre ICCAM study (www.iccam.org.uk). The ICCAM project uses MRI to detect changes in brain structure and function in people with alcohol, cocaine or heroin dependence compared to volunteers with no history of dependence. Pharmacological agents are used to evaluate the potential for preventing relapse in people who have recently detoxified from alcohol, heroin or cocaine.



Ms. Heather Agyepong, Research Student

I am part of the ICCAM study team, which investigates changes in brain structure and function in people recovering from cocaine, alcohol and heroin dependence. I am also interested the evaluation of so-called soft signs which reflect neuropsychological impairment. In clinical practice, handwritten information has long been of diagnostic value as it may convey information of the progression of a disorder. I am currently investigating whether a handwritten signature could be used as an indicator of a deficit in visuo-spatial ability.


 Ms. Dana Smith, PhD Student

I am a PhD student supervised by Prof. Trevor Robbins and Dr. Karen Ersche. My research is focused on understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of impulse control behaviours, such as drug addiction or binge eating. I am involved in the ICCAM study where I investigate dysfunctional reward processing systems in people recovering from substance dependence. I further investigate reward processing in patients with eating disorders using a variety of techniques, including behavioural tests and functional MRI scans.


Dr Yetunde Faluyi, Specialist Registrar

I am an advanced trainee in Old Age and General Adult Psychiatry. A keen interest of mine is the development of more effective treatments for the growing number of older drug and alcohol users. I am involved in a neuroimaging study supervised by Dr Karen Ersche to identify markers in brain structure and function that are associated with different drug-taking trajectories.  As part of the ICCAM study team, I am involved in the medical assessment of study participants and I am responsible for their medical care during the study.


Former Drug Addiction Group Members:

Ms. Elisabeth Kent, Research Assistant

Dr Shachi Pradhan, Specialist Registrar

Ms. Hadas Gorodetzky, Research Student