Sorcha O'Connor
Joined Meer in February 2024
Sorcha O'Connor

Sorcha is an early-stage neuroscience researcher committed to understanding the complexities of psychiatric disorders and human emotion. She is passionate about studying mental health conditions through different lenses, reconciling genetics and molecular biology with activity between different brain regions and psychological symptoms. Currently pursuing her PhD at Imperial College London, Sorcha leads the PsilOCD study, supervised by Dr. David Erritzoe and Dr. Kate Godfrey. PsilOCD is the first of its kind in the UK, investigating the effects of a low dose of psilocybin on patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as a potential treatment.

In addition to evaluating improvements in OCD symptoms, PsilOCD assesses several cognitive facets of the condition. These include rule learning, attentional flexibility, and decision-making, all of which are impacted by OCD. The study also investigates whether psilocybin treatment enhances neuroplasticity, as measured through EEG neuroimaging, and examines genetic and immune-related blood markers. This multifaceted assessment approach aligns with Sorcha's aim to develop innovative solutions for sufferers, many of whom do not receive sufficient relief from existing approaches.

Sorcha’s journey into brain sciences started at the University of Manchester, where she studied a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience with Spanish as a minor. This involved a year in industry, which she spent in Madrid researching the epigenetic landscape of schizophrenia. She then pursued a Master’s in Cognitive Neuroscience at Pompeu Fabra University, immersing herself in various neuroimaging techniques. This enabled her to better understand the various hierarchical levels of dysfunction underlying mental illness.

Psychiatric conditions are notoriously mysterious and challenging to treat. Factors contributing to disorders like OCD, depression, and anxiety are often inadequately acknowledged and misinterpreted, due to many traditional psychiatric perspectives misaligning with modern neuroscience. Sorcha advocates for integrated models that reconcile the most robust findings from neuroscience, psychology, and psychiatry. These are essential in identifying genuine causal factors and guiding effective treatment.

While psychiatric medication serves a purpose, it is rarely a silver bullet, with many of the symptoms it addresses being manifestations of underlying maladaptive psychological patterns that require targeted treatment. Hence, therapies that focus on addressing these psychological components, such as exposure response prevention (ERP) for OCD, are most likely to catalyse the biggest improvements.

Yet, the effectiveness of these therapies is often hindered by imprecise delivery methods, with around 40% of patients with OCD failing to respond adequately to ERP offered by clinicians. This deficiency highlights the need for more systematic and personalized techniques to accurately identify and address sufferers' core fears and triggers.

Sorcha also advocates for the efficacy of positive lifestyle changes during recovery; intermittent fasting, cold water exposure, and exercise can all help individuals gain the momentum required to do the necessary self-work. Outside academia, she channels her passion for mental health research into writing, contributing to various freelance and ghostwriting projects. She also harbours a strong interest in bio-related entrepreneurship and the biotech sector, with a specific focus on investigating how digital solutions could transform mental health care delivery. Sorcha is excited to see PsilOCD come to an end and looks forward to the opportunity to share the findings with the general public as well as embark on her next steps.

Articles by Sorcha O'Connor

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