Our research group conducts independent clinical treatment trials evaluating new psychological therapies and medical therapeutics for use in both adults and children. The work aims to give individuals and their families have an evidence base to determine what works for them. The work we have done, for example, presented the first evidence of a medical treatment for social difficulties in child autism. We have evaluated new methods for helping people learn to overcome fear. We have also developed accessible social skill and anxiety programs for adults on the autism spectrum.
We are world-leaders in trials of oxytocin. At present, we are recruiting children with autism for a large study that will expand on previous findings. In 2015, we published a study showing improvements in social behaviour associated with a 5-week course of intranasal oxytocin. Our present study is longer, 15 weeks, and is recruiting 110 3-12 year old children in Sydney and 50 3-6 year olds in Perth.
We have been providing free and effective group therapies to adults struggling with social anxiety and separately to those people on the autism spectrum who want help to manage social skills and anxiety. Our therapies are evidence based and represent gold-standard programs. We have supported over 700 adults through our programs in the last 10 years and have used this work to also understand how the brain and body is influenced by psychological support.
Embedded with health systems
Our work is based in Camperdown, Sydney. We are, however, embedded within the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network to gather evidence, characterize and to deliver new treatments through the network. Our goal is to provide better access for research to the 1200 children per year that attend these services and to make sure the new assessments and treatments make a difference for those accessing services. We aim to also integrate evidence based assessments of treatments within the network so, within a single year, we can gather enough evidence to know whether a treatment works and why. We also aim to develop systems for families so that they have greater access to their own assessment and power to decide what is best for them and their children.
Oxytocin ligand development
Our work focuses on understanding why therapies work. One of the most exciting of our current studies investigates exactly where oxytocin nasal spray is absorbed in humans in the brain and/or body and how that absorption influences the functioning of the human oxytocin system. This project aims to be the first in the world to develop the needed oxytocin ligand which operates like a stamp on the spray. While using this ‘stamp’ we will be able to track how oxytocin is absorbed upon delivery and how it influences the natural oxytocin system.
Characterising social behaviour and executive function throughout the lifespan
A large part of our work identifies brain and cognitive functions that contribute to well being in humans. This project seeks to recruit large numbers of adults and large numbers of children to understand how planning, memory, and different cognitive skills change over time and contribute to social disabilities. Our brain focused work links these assessments to understand how brain structure, functioning and chemistry also change over time. By developing this evidence about human development we can then understand how our interventions and supports might alter or improve these trajectories.
At present, we are recruiting young children (3 to 12 years) in a study to understand the neurobiological differences between typical developing children and those with autism.
In adults, we are working to understand how cognition and brain functioning throughout the lifespan, with a new project which is recruiting adults with autism aged 50 and beyond.
Within a broader research community
We are recognized world leaders in our work but we also work closely with research leaders in our fields. For example, our team works closely with other researcher sites in America (Emory, Duke, UC Davis Universities) to provide additional expertise that ensures our goals are achieved.