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

Dr Karen Ersche 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.


Ms. Claire Whitelock, Research Assistant Claire Whitelock

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.



 Dana SmithMs. 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.


YemiDr 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.