Prof Suzanne Higgs (Professor of Psychobiology of Appetite, Principal Investigator of the EBRG): Suzanne joined the University of Birmingham in 1998. She received her BA in Psychology, Physiology and Philosophy from Oxford University (1992). During her PhD work at the University of Durham (1996) she specialized in psychopharmacology of appetite under the supervision of Steve Cooper. She completed post doctoral work at Oxford University on the neural bases of learning and memory with Nicholas Rawlins and Susan Greenfield and was then appointed to a lectureship in psychology at the University of Birmingham. Suzanne is interested in psychobiological influences on appetite. Her research is particularly concerned with cognitive and social influences on eating behaviour and the potential role of these factors in the development of obesity. The ESRC, BBSRC, Leverhulme Trust, MRC and Alcohol Education Research Council have funded Suzanne’s work.
Dr Maartje Spetter (Research fellow): Maartje joined the EBRG in November 2016. She has a BSc (2005) and MSc (2007) from Maastricht University, in Health Sciences (nowadays Biomedical Sciences), specialising in Metabolism and Nutrition. She completed her PhD at the Nutritional Neuroscience lab at Utrecht University (2012) under supervision of Paul Smeets, in cooperation with Wageningen University focusing on the effects of taste, odour, and flavour perception on food intake and related neural responses (with a graduate exchange at the Neuropsychology and Physiology of Flavor and Feeding group at Yale University, John B. Pierce Laboratory). Additionally, she completed a post-doc with Manfred Hallschmid at the Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tübingen on oxytocin administration and self-regulation of brain networks in relation to eating behaviour. Maartje’s main focus is the interplay between metabolic signals (e.g. hormones), higher cognitive processes (e.g. inhibition), and food reward processes with a special interest in related neural responses and networks.
Dr Helen Ruddock (Research fellow): Helen joined the University of Birmingham EBRG in March 2018. She has a BSc in Psychology (University of Plymouth, 2006) and MSc in Neuropsychology (University of Bristol, 2010). She completed her PhD in March 2017, under the supervision of Dr Charlotte Hardman at the University of Liverpool. Her PhD focused on identifying the psychological and behavioural characteristics of addiction-like eating. Prior to joining the EBRG, Helen worked with Dr Andy Jones (University of Liverpool) examining the relationship between self-control processes and alcohol consumption. Helen’s current research examines the mechanisms which underlie the social facilitation of eating (i.e. the tendency for people to eat more in social situations).
Leonie Balter (Doctoral researcher): Leonie joined the EBRG in 2015. She has a BSc (Biological Psychology) and MSc (Neuropsychology) from Maastricht University, and an MSc in Nutrition and Health from Wageningen University. As part of her training she conducted several internships in which she looked at the effects of food components on health-related factors such as intestinal barrier function and innate immunity and how reward sensitivity modulates brain reward responses. Within her doctoral research Leonie studies the effects of inflammation on the brain. She investigates states related to low-grade inflammation including obesity, healthy ageing and chronic diseases. Leonie is aiming to combine these lines of research with an experimental model of inflammation, which provides a valuable tool for studying purely inflammation-driven effects. Her PhD-work is cooperation between the University of Birmingham and the University of Amsterdam.
Elizabeth Martin (Doctoral researcher): Elizabeth joined the ERBG in 2017 after finishing her MSc in Psychology and Psychological Research at the University of Birmingham. Her master’s research focused on resting-state functional connectivity, and she now aims to apply this interest in brain imaging and cognitive neuroscience to her PhD research. Elizabeth’s PhD is funded by BBSRC as part of the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Programme, which, in addition to three years of doctoral research, involves modules in advanced research methods, completing a mini-project at the University of Leicester, and working with her industrial collaborator, P1vital. Her main research interest is ADHD and it’s comorbidity with symptoms of disordered eating behaviour. Her PhD research project is focussed on the range of cognitive and biological processes involved in guiding eating behaviour and how deficits in some of these processes, associated with ADHD, can lead to disordered eating behaviour.
Elizabeth Schneider (Doctoral researcher): Elizabeth joined the group as a doctoral researcher in September 2017. She completed a BSc in Psychology with a minor in Nutrition and an MSc in Clinical Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University, USA. As an undergraduate Elizabeth was a research assistant were she investigated the effects of caffeine on sustained attention, and in addition conducted her own experiments about mindless eating and estimation of food intake. During her Masters ‘degree she examined how subtle changes to a person’s eating environment can affect weight and reduce binge eating in people with disordered eating. She also created a therapy group for college students with disordered eating using integrative therapy techniques. She is currently working on a study which investigates how the fullness of an eating container influences food intake, assisting in fMRI-data collection, and preparing a study for her dissertation were she will study the effects of intranasal insulin on cognitive processes, metabolic processes, and reward values of food . Her future interests include sex hormone imbalances, mindful eating, the effect of unconscious environmental cues and the development of novel interventions.
Madhronica Sardjoe (Intern Master-student): Madhronica is an MSc-student (Neuroscience; Psychopharmacology and Pathophysiology) from the University of Amsterdam. Her previous master`s research focused on the identification of brain regions involved in emotion processing in patients with anorexia nervosa. During her 7 month internship at EBRG she will be investigating the effects of intranasal administration of insulin on neural responses and networks, in relation to food reward, cognitive control, working memory, snack consumption, food and emotion related memory and mood and appetite ratings. After her internship, she will focus on writing a literature review on the effects of a serotonin antagonist on the interaction between metabolic, cognitive and reward processes in appetite.
Nina Avitabile (Masters Student): Nina joined the team in September 2018. She has completed a four year Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Birmingham with an international year at the University of Virginia (UVa). During her time at UVa she took two courses relating directly to nutrition; ‘Principles of Nutrition’ covering topics including micro- and macro-nutrients, food packaging and advertising, FDA guidelines and factors influencing eating. She also took a ‘Malnutrition and Disease’ course which involved discussing papers relating to different areas of malnutrition and food consumption and the links to non-communicable diseases. She is now excited to begin her Masters in Psychology back at the University of Birmingham and is ready to specialise in something suited to her interest of food-related behaviour, nutrition and food consumption and how these topics relate to both psychology and biology and the overlap between the two schools. Alongside completing the MSc, Nina will be working on a couple of studies concerning the effects of both intranasal insulin and also a serotonin agonist on eating behaviour.
Stephen Andric (Masters Student): Stephen joined the team in September 2018. He graduated with first-class honours degree in BSc Psychology from the University of Kent in 2018. He is currently studying on the MSc Brain Imaging & Cognitive Neuroscience course at the University of Birmingham. Although his undergraduate dissertation revolved around facial/emotional processing, his main interests are in how lifestyle, specifically food consumption & exercise, influence our cognition, and vice-versa. He hopes to eventually conduct research that can inform interventions, especially for children, in order to improve cognition and mood through natural, practical methods that can be easily incorporated into busy lives. Stephen will be doing his master’s thesis alongside Dr Spetter, on the how the drug meta-chlorophenylpiperazine (mCPP) influences cognition & appetite, and the possible neural correlates of these responses using fMRI.