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Spotlight on Research - Elena Nixon

Posted on 26 May 2013


We interview Elena Nixon about her involvement with TS


Dr Elena Nixon



Assistant Professor of Applied Neuropsychology, University of Nottingham


Where are you doing your research?

Division of Psychiatry and Applied Psychology, Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham


What is the topic of your research?

My research interests in TS lie primarily within the area of investigating the effectiveness of non-pharmacological therapies for young people with TS. In particular, I have been working with colleagues on developing behavioural interventions for TS which involve physical activity as well as cognitive-behavioural approaches that can potentially help reduce symptoms of stress and depression often experienced by young people with TS. More recently, I have joined a team of clinicians and computer scientists who have developed a Smartwatch that emits vibrations which seem to help reduce the frequency of tics in young people who have tried it. Besides my interest in behavioural interventions for TS, I am also keen on investigating the mechanisms that underlie tic symptomatology using brain imaging techniques and on developing more effective ways of monitoring and assessing tics.  


How will this help people with TS?

I am hoping that behavioural interventions will help young people with TS manage their tics better and hence provide them with a better quality of life. Pharmacological treatment is not appropriate for all young people with TS and current behavioural treatments targeted at tics do not work for all. Our previous work revealed that even a single session of an exercise-based intervention can have beneficial effects on young people’s tics, as well as on their mood and anxiety levels. Cognitive-behavioural and vibration-based therapies which can be delivered through mobile applications can promote relaxation and other beneficial effects that can help young people self-manage their unpleasant feelings associated with tics or stressful situations that can exacerbate tics. Finally, developing better ways of monitoring and assessing tics will not only help clinicians provide more effective care but will also help young people themselves become more aware of their symptoms and hence more capable of controlling them.


What stage of the research are you at?

We are currently in the early stages of developing these behavioural intervention programs, working in collaboration with experts in the field of medicine, psychology and computer science whilst seeking to secure funding for their systematic implementation.


What will happen next in the study?

While we are currently running small studies to investigate the feasibility and potential effectiveness of such behavioural interventions in young people with TS, we are hoping that we will soon be able to start the implementation of these programs through larger, more controlled studies that will test their effectiveness in as many young people with TS as possible. In the meantime, upon completion of the studies that are currently running, we will analyse the data and then publish our findings in scientific journals to share the results with other investigators and clinicians in the field in an attempt to contribute to the understanding of the potential usefulness of such programs in the management of TS symptomatology.


Why do you want to be a researcher?

A scientific understanding of behavioural treatments that can potentially be effective for the management of tics and other problems related to TS is very important to me as a researcher and academic in this field. My main goal and ambition is to help contribute to the science behind the pathology of TS and to ways of practically helping young people with TS manage their symptoms better on a day-to-day basis. Being a researcher in this field is something that I find very interesting and rewarding as it also gives me the opportunity to meet a lot of young people and their families and to share their concerns but more importantly to introduce them to the world of science. All this, of course, would not be feasible without the help of all the young people and their families who participate in our studies, which we are always very grateful for.


For more information, you can visit my website.

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Spotlight on Research - Elena Nixon








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